The heartbreak has begun to subside for Polk County Middle School head football coach Billy Alm, with pride swelling in its place.
The passage of time has eased for Alm and the Wolverines the disappointment following last week’s 24-22 loss to Waynesville Middle School in the Blue Ridge Middle School Conference championship game. An opportunity for the school’s first conference title and unbeaten season slipped away as Waynesville scored the go-ahead touchdown early in the fourth quarter, then stopped a late Polk County drive to finish its own unbeaten season.
But one week does not a season make, and the first seven were quite special for Polk, which rolled to a division title that included a season-opening win over Canton Middle School (first win over Canton in school history) and a season-ending double-overtime win over Hendersonville Middle.
“After a few days, as I’ve reflected, we had an outstanding season,” Alm said. “We tied the best record in school history. We were 7-1 last year and 7-1 this year.
“I’ve come to terms with the fact that if it could have gone wrong the other day, it went wrong. It just wasn’t meant to be.”
That Polk would have even been in such a position, though, didn’t seem possible to Alm when preseason practice began. While he knew skill players such as D.J. Twitty, Arnie Twitty and Dillion Overholt would be present for their eighth grade seasons, he wasn’t as certain what to expect from his line on either side of the ball.
“At the beginning of the season, I was very skeptical about how we were going to do,” Alm said. “We had a bunch of skill players back, but we only had a couple of linemen who were ready to start right out of the gate.
“Obviously, with the addition of Coach (Ben) Johnson, he took a bunch of skill players and turned some of them into linemen. He did a great job for us.”
As that line matured and seventh grader Peyton Kemmerlin settled in at quarterback, the Wolverines began to click offensively. Polk was never held under 20 points all season and averaged a robust 34.5 points per game. Defensively, the Wolverines recorded two shutouts and only allowed Hendersonville and Waynesville, each of whom were unbeaten at the time, to score more than 16 points.
“At this level, the teams who do well usually have a fullback, have a tailback and one or two good linemen,” Alm said. “This year, we probably had six or seven backs who could win a game for you. And by the end of the season, we had a lot of linemen.”
No doubt, much credit for the team’s success goes to Alm, Johnson and assistant John Ruth. But Alm also points to Polk County Youth Football as a key factor in the program’s recent winning run.
“Our youth program does such a great job,” Alm said. “The kids come prepared and truly know the fundamentals of playing football.
“The seventh graders who are playing youth this year will come up as eighth graders and be ready to step right in.”
Just 13 seventh graders were listed on this year’s roster, so Alm and staff will face a challenge next season in keeping Polk atop the East Division. But those players, and those who join the team next year, can look to the 14-2 record compiled by this year’s eighth graders over the past two seasons for inspiration.
“I’m so proud of our kids,” Alm said. “They fought and fought and fought until the end.”
Note: Coming this weekend, a photographic look back at the 2013 Polk Middle season