Playoff run helps fuel successful spring workouts for Polk football program
Bruce Ollis felt a different air this year around Polk County’s spring workout sessions.
The Wolverines’ run last season to the 1AA Western Regional semifinals had had a noticable carryover effect throughout the offseason, Ollis said, beginning with the first workouts in the weight room and carrying through the recent days on the practice field.
“Very productive,” Ollis said of Polk County’s spring workouts. “The players we had all had great enthusiasm. Based on our finish last season, there’s a lot of anticipation for 2019, and we fed off of that a bit.”
Thanks to the success of Polk County’s spring teams, Ollis and staff didn’t have all returning players available for the allowed skill development sessions. But that’s a situation that Ollis gladly embraced.
“The main thing I’m looking for in spring. . . is effort, execution and enthusiasm. We had all three of these,” he said. “I think in some cases spring practice is overrated. We had baseball guys in the playoffs, we had track guys competing for a state championnship.
“Six practices out of 10 is not concerning to me. We’ve got football guys competing for state championships, and to me that’s better than being at practice.”
One of the focal points of the offseason as well as the fall run-up to Polk County’s first game on August 23 against Cherokee will be the search to replace starting quarterback Avery Edwards. The recent graduate threw for 799 yards and six touchdowns and ran for 581 yards and nine scores last season.
Tyler Staley, who saw some playing time at the position last season, heads a group of returnees that includes junior varsity starter Chan Barber and rising sophomore Bryce Jergenson, who approached Ollis after the season about trying out for the position. The Wolverines will also add rising freshman Casey Beiler, who played quarterback for Polk County Middle’s conference champions, to the mix in the fall.
“It’s a positive for us in that we’ve got competition, and competition always breeds excellence,” Ollis said. “Someone will emerge from that group, and the other two guys will start somewhere else. One of that group (plus Beiler) will also start for our JV team, and if you’re the starting quarterback on the junior varsity, one day you’re going to take snaps on Friday night.”
The spring workouts also gave Ollis and staff a first opportunity to see two new additions to the program, Chase and Gage McSwain, on the field. Both transferred to Polk County earlier this school year.
“Those were two very pleasant surprises (during the spring sessions),” Ollis said. “Both are ballplayers. They’ve got good instincts. They’ve both come in here and given everything they’ve got. They’ve been great in the weight room and are very coachable.
“I think our players have embraced them. They’ve fit in nicely and added to our depth.”
Ollis would love to have more depth this season after a 2018 campaign filled with injuries. The Wolverines lost a handful of starters throughout the season, including losing returning 1,000-yard rusher Elijah Sutton in the opener at Chase.
“It would be nice to stay more healthy than we stayed a year ago,” Ollis said. “That’s especially important in 1A football. We have 70 players in the program right now (including rising ninth graders), give or take. We’d like to stay around 70 players, and I’d rather have 40 JV players and 30 varsity guys. If you can start with that and have 15 to 18 seniors every year, you have an opportunity to have a pretty good team every year.
“All those guys don’t have to be great players. Those are program players. You win football games with average athletes who are committed to winning football games. We have a lot of those guys right now.”
The quest to develop more of those players will begin Friday as Polk County hosts the Wolverine Champions Football Camp from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. Cost for the camp is just $10 and players will receive a T-shirt and pizza lunch.
“The one-day camp is Love Wolverine Football Day,” Ollis said. “We’re trying to promote that more than anything. We hope to have 40 to 50 kids here.
“Hopefully each camper will learn skills that they can develop on their own. They’re also going to develop some camaraderie with the kids they’ve come to camp with.”