That Polk County has rebounded from its 0-3 start to within one win of a conference championship is no surprise to Debois Miller.
Summer workouts, early-season practices, time after time, Miller saw a Wolverine squad unlike any in his time in royal blue and silver.
“When I saw the way guys were pushing sleds, and I saw the way guys were doing blocking drills. . . I felt this year was definitely going to be special,” Miller said. “I saw everybody working so hard. I’ve been on the varsity for three years, and I’ve never seen people working that hard. It inspired me to go out and work even harder.”
The results of that hard work have been apparent – the senior, along with fellow linebacker sophomore Khiree Green, have helped anchor a Polk defense that has held all but one opponent under 20 points during the team’s current six-game winning streak and turned in one of its best performances of the season at Avery in its last game, allowing the Vikings to rush for just 136 yards with no passing yards.
Now the biggest test of the season awaits Miller and Green on Friday, with Owen and standout running back Jager Gardner standing in the way of Polk’s first Western Highlands Conference title since 2010. But the duo say the Wolverine defense is ready to face that challenge.
“We can’t let one player beat eleven,” Green said.
“We’ve all got to flow to the ball to stop him,” Miller said. “We are making it our goal to stop him.”
As you would expect from starting linebackers, Miller and Green lead the Wolverines in tackles, Miller atop the charts with 63 tackles, Green tied with Tyrone Miller at 62. Green leads the team in tackles for loss with nine and has posted double-digit tackle numbers in his last two games.
Both take their roles in the Polk defense seriously.
“We’re the leaders of the defense, the captains,” Miller said. “We’ve got to be physical and show why we’re linebackers. We set the tone for the defense.”
“If we’re into it, then the whole team is into it,” Green said. “If we’re not, then the whole team is not.”
Thus the team’s three-game losing streak to open the season proved especially painful to the two. The defense struggled, at times, to stop opponent drives, leading to a “get off the field” chant that has since become the defense’s mantra. Injuries and some pretty good opponents in Shelby and Asheville certainly were factors in those early losses, but that didn’t ease the frustration any for the Wolverines.
“We weren’t tackling, not getting off the ball. We just weren’t physical enough,” Miller said.
“Those three losses really set us off,” Green said. “We finally started clicking on defense, playing more as a team. We started working together, getting after the ball.”
Both Miller and Green point to the Landrum game as the turnaround point of the season for the defense, but equally as important (and the pick of head coach Bruce Ollis) was the team’s 21-7 win over Madison. The Wolverine defense twice stopped the Patriots from scoring while inside the Polk 5-yard line, including a stop on a fourth-and-goal from inside the 1. Landrum also drove inside the red zone without scoring, and Miller and Green agree that the defense’s attitude has much to do with its goal-line stinginess.
“Our mindset is that they’re not going to get it done, they’re not going to do it,” Green said. “We’re not going to let you get the yardage.”
“We just manned up and told ourselves that we weren’t going to let them score,” Miller said.
Miller, of course, knows a bit about scoring. The senior provided one of the defensive highlights of the season against Mountain Heritage, taking the ball away from a Cougar runner in a pile, emerging and racing 35 yards for a touchdown. On the scoreboard, it turned an 19-14 lead into a 26-14 advantage. On the field, it seemed to completely deflate the Mountain Heritage offense, and Polk raced away for a dominating 80-36 victory.
“It’s just a blur,” Miller said of this touchdown. “I just did it from instinct. Somebody held (the runner) up, and I went for the ball and then went for the touchdown.”
“But who was running with you?” Green laughed. “Who was right behind you the whole way?”
Together, working hard, as they’ve been all season.