Defending state champ Salisbury poses challenge for Polk County

The saying originated in the world of professional wrestling and has been borrowed by players and coaches in just about every known sport.

That phrase being to be The Man, you gotta beat The Man.

Polk County is going to get its shot Friday at knocking off The Man.

Defending 2AA state champion Salisbury rolls into G.M. Tennant Stadium on Friday for a 7:30 p.m kickoff, and while the Hornets may not be the same team that thumped St. Pauls 42-21 in this spring’s championship game, enough pieces remain to have Salisbury again ranked this season among the state’s best.

If the Wolverines needed a measuring stick as to how they’ll fare this season at the 2A level, it arrives Friday evening.

“The kids are looking forward to the opportunity to play them,” said Polk County head coach Bruce Ollis. “If you’re going to be thought of as one of those types of teams, you have to play those teams to find out.”

Salisbury didn’t get a chance to play last week, with West Rowan cancelling the season opener due to COVID-19 issues, so there’s still a bit of mystery about some aspects of the Hornets. What is certain is that one of the top players in the state will step onto the visitors’ side of W.J. Miller Field.

Salisbury linebacker Jalon Walker has already committed to Georgia. The 6-3, 225-pound Walker is ranked among the top five players in North Carolina by most recruiting services and considered a top-50 player nationally by some.

“He’s 6-3, 220 pounds and runs well, and that’s why he’s going to be playing in the SEC,” said Ollis, who has faced his share of star players over the years and has a philosophy on how to approach those matchups: “If that player is going to be making all the plays, then we have to limit the plays that all the other players on the defense are making. We have to be more consistent.”

Salisbury does have plenty of other players on the defensive side of the ball capable of making plays. Linebacker Jaden Gaither (6-2, 210) is also beginning to draw the attention of recruiters, and sophomore cornerback Deuce Walker, Jalon Walker’s younger brother, already has at least one Division I scholarship offer.

Nose guard Nick Hall (6-1, 285), inside linebacker Amare Johnson (5-11, 220) and cornerback Marcus Cook are also names to watch.

On the offensive side, the Hornets return leading rusher JyMikaah Wells (1,472 yards, 16 TDs), but will have a new quarterback in sophomore Mike Geter. Cook and Jayden Gibson will be Cook’s top targets.

Ollis will hope Polk County’s defense can perform as it did in the season-opening 28-7 win over Newton-Conover. The Wolverines forced three turnovers and only allowed a score in the final minutes of the fourth quarter.

“Defensively, I’m really proud of what we did,” Ollis said. “I know (defensive coordinated Jamie Thompson) was disappointed that we didn’t get the goose egg.

“We scored 28 points and we had zero turnovers, which is incredible for an opening game. They turned it over three times and that was the difference in the game. I also thought our conditioning played a huge role in the game.”

Having that opener out of the way could help Polk County this week.

“One big advantage we have is that we have played a game and they didn’t get a chance to play,” Ollis said. “We have some first-game jitters and made some first-game mistakes, but hopefully that is behind us now

“It’s a game that I think our players are excited about playing.”