Polk County head football coach Bruce Ollis leads the Wolverines through a drill during last year's preseason

In a normal year, Bruce Ollis would have wrapped up Polk County’s final preseason football practice on Thursday.

The Wolverines would have been some 24 hours away from a season-opening trip to Cherokee, primed and ready to start their 11-game regular-season schedule.

But 2020 hasn’t offered a sniff of normality in months, leaving Ollis with an August afternoon unlike any he’s had in decades.

“I played my first football game in the fourth grade, and I reckon I was 10 at the time,” Ollis said. “I’m 63 now, so this is the first time in 53 years that I haven’t been preparing to play or coach a game.

“To call it strange is an understatement.”

Strange times, indeed, but times have also been good lately around Polk County’s fieldhouse. The Wolverines have been quietly going through Phase Two workouts allowed by the North Carolina High School Athletic Association, holding the final of those on Thursday before a dead period that will coincide with the start of classes on Monday.

The global coronavirus pandemic brought high school athletics to a halt in March, with no activity allowed until June, when schools were given the go-ahead to begin limited conditioning workouts. Phase Two expanded options to include some limited contact with equipment such as footballs in small groups, and the Wolverines have been doing just that.

Happily, too.

“I told the coaches that I believe the kids were so happy just to get out of the house and be back around their friends,” Ollis said. “We’ve gotten as much out of this time as you can. We’re in great shape. We’ve got to develop football skills, but from a purely physical standpoint, we’re ready to go.

“When we started Phase Two, we put the running, body weights, kettlebells and dumbbells behind us and started working on skills.”

The NCHSAA’s recent announcement of an amended sports calendar for the 2020-2021 school year gave Wolverine morale another boost. The football preseason won’t start until February, and teams will only be allowed to play seven regular-season games starting Feb. 26. But the plan at least offers hope for football this academic year.

“It looks to be doable, the plan the NCHSAA has, and I had doubts we would get anything like that,” Ollis said. “I think our guys will be ready to go. Hopefully we’ll get to play football in Feburary. That has given people more motivation than anything. That has given players hope that there will be football in the future if we get things right.”

Schools aren’t allowed to officially make schedules at present, but Ollis has worked out a tentative plan. Pending any changes by the NCHSAA, Polk County will open the season on Feb. 26 at Hendersonville, then host East Rutherford before playing its five Western Highlands Conference opponents.

Once Polk County completes its start-of-school dead period, Ollis said the Wolverines will continue workouts a couple of days per week. That will allow Wolverines involved in basketball to work out the other two days that students are on campus – Wednesdays are remote learning days for all students – as official practice is currently slated to begin in December, with the season running Jan. 4-Feb. 19.

Ollis reminded all players and coaches to adhere to the recommended protocols of masks in public, social distancing and frequent washing of hands as the best way to ensure there are sports this school year, activities the veteran coach says are sorely missed.

“We all need high school sports,” Ollis said. “That’s something everyone can rally around. Regardless of your political position, if you’re a Polk County person, you want to be pulling for the Wolverines.

“Democrats, Republicans, liberals, conservatives, it doesn’t matter. They all can sit in the stands together and cheer for the same team no matter what’s going on in the political world. I think that’s what we’re missing right now.”