Daniel Ruff would like to clarify Polk County head coach Bruce Ollis’ assessment of he and teammate Logan Conner.
Ollis referred earlier this season to the senior linemen as having “a little bit of nasty in them.”
That’s not necessarily so, Ruff says with a smile.
“Me and Logan do flip a switch when we cross the white lines,” Ruff said. “We don’t care as much what happens. I’m glad we can flip the switch.”
Away from the field? “We’re both nice guys,” Ruff said, smiling wider.
Whatever the perspective, it’s working for Polk County, with Conner and Ruff two key parts of an offensive line that has been vital in the Wolverines’ 3-0 start.
The play of the starting five on that line – Ruff, Conner, Trey Thompson, Carlos Sedano and Jared Searcy – has also given Ollis reason to consider a few other descriptive phrases.
“I don’t like to use the word dominant, but they’ve been that way,” he said. “They do the grunt work, and that’s what you have to have, guys that don’t mind doing the grunt work.
“It seems like we get three or four yards every time we run the ball and sometimes we break one for a score.”
A handful of numbers support the eye test. Through three games:
- Polk County is averaging 244 yards rushing per game
- The Wolverines are averaging 5.9 yards per rush
- The Wolverines are averaging 6.3 yards per rushing attempt on first down, with 20 percent of first-down rushes thus far picking up 11 or more yards
- Polk County is 5-for-5 on fourth-down attempts this season, all of those on the ground
- Polk’s 109 points are the most in its first three games since 2012. The Wolverines have scored 40 or more points twice in its first three games for the first time since 2007.
Effort, experience – Ruff and Conner both point to those as key factors in the line’s early success.
“I think the communication has been a whole lot better than it has been in the past,” Conner said. “We’re definitely working our butts off in practice, too. We’ve been more consistent in running plays because we’re having less mental mistakes.”
“Defintely our physicality and our speed off the ball,” Ruff said. “Those are two big things that (offensive line coach Zach Searcy) talks abut, seeing our offense have physicality and speed off blocks. That has helped us a lot.”
The group’s experience – all but Jared Searcy are seniors – also helps with the myriad pre-snap decisions that must be made. From the stands, it may look as if the group simply walks up to the line of scrimmage, takes their stances and then push and pull against defenders once the ball is snapped. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
“My brain is always going,” said Ruff, who as the center has the most pre-snap decisions to make. “I’m looking for one technique or three technique, seeing where the blocks need to be. I make all the line calls, directing the line. It’s definitely nerve-wracking, but you get used to it and everything falls into place.
“Experience definitely helps. We’ve got four seniors, and that helps a lot. We’ve played together since we were little, so we know how each other thinks.”
Once the snap occurs, the offensive line has a simple goal.
“Pancakes,” Conner says with a laugh, referring to football parlance for flattening a defender. “Once you’re get you’re feet chopping and you feel his body going backward and you see him go on his back, you know hard work pays off.
“Coach Searcy takes pride in that. He takes pride in seeing us put people on the ground. But then we have to get up and go do it again.”
The consistency upfront thus far this season has been a boon to Ollis, who also calls Polk’s offensive plays.
“There’s not a bad call to make,” he said. “When you’re rushing the ball like we have, then the play-action pass is there.
“Those guys are not afraid to get after it. I tell them, men, you’re paving the way for us. I think they take a lot of satisfaction in that.”
Three games do not a season make, and both Ruff and Conner know there a lot key games remaining on Polk’s schedule. They’d like to continue to power Polk to more success.
“I want to hang a banner, a Western Highlands Conference championship banner,” Conner said. “It’s been a while since we’ve done that. It would be nice to get one of those state rings, too.
“I try to communicate with the younger guys and help them. I make sure they know what they’re doing and help them out. They’re the future of Polk County football.”
And they’ve got two pretty good role models to follow.