The boys are back: Polk County kicks off 2021 football season with Newton-Conover

It’s been two seasons since a North Carolina high school football season last kicked off in August.

In many ways, it feels much longer than that.

But football is back in its traditional spot in the schedule, and Polk County is more than ready for the 2021 season to kick off Friday as Newton-Conover visits G.M. Tennant Stadium in the opener for both schools.

It will be a homecoming for Red Devils head coach Steven Pack, a former Wolverine player and coach. It will be the Wolverines’ first game as a 2A school since the 2016 season and their first game as a member of the Mountain Foothills 7 Conference.

And it will be football in August.

Hallelujah.

“Football in the fall. What a grand idea,” said Polk County head coach Bruce Ollis. “I think the excitement is being felt by all of North Carolina football, not just Polk County. One hundred percent of the boxes are checked on that.”

The game should also offer a good early-season test for a Polk County squad less than four months removed from a run to the 1A West Regional final.

Newton-Conover finished 2-4 in the spring and faces the loss of leading rusher Allen Shade, the heart of last season’s offense. But the Red Devils have been aggressive during the preseason with their passing attack, operating from a spread and throwing the majority of the time. Junior Jason Brawley (5-8, 160) has been the primary trigger man in most of that action.

“He’s not a big kid, but he’s an athlete,” Ollis said. “He’s a playmaker, and we’ll have to keep him contained.

“Our pass rush has got to be better. That’s one thing over the course of our scrimmages that has not been up to par, so we’ve worked on that.”

Pack told Hickory-area media that a combination of Ben Watson (5-11, 218) and Demarcus Beatty (5-7, 164) are likely to try to fill Shade’s shoes in the backfield. But it’s the receiving corps that will likely be the focal point of Newton-Conover’s attack, led by senior Zane Redmond (6-3, 175).

“He’s a dynamic player, and they use him at receiver a lot like we do with (Antonio Simpson),” Ollis said. “They’ll take some shots downfield at him like we do with Simp.”

The player to watch on the field Friday could well be on the Red Devils’ defensive unit in senior linebacker Xavier Coulter (5-11, 225), who’s made at least one preseason all-state list. Coulter had 77 total tackles in six games in the spring and has been labeled “the most underrated player in the state” by one website.

Brawley will also line up at linebacker, though Newton-Conover won’t field as many two-way players as will Polk County. But the Wolverines hope to rely on some of their offensive depth to counter that.

“Our goal right now is to rest some of our skill players on offense so that we can be more dyanamic on defense,” Ollis said. “Even if it’s just for two players, they can come over and get some water and catch their breath.

“That helps above the neck as much as anything. That allows them to get some air and decompress a bit before they get ready to go back in.”

Ollis hopes the return of fall football will also result in a big crowd for the opener. Polk County will also celebrate 12th Man Night, with that club selling membership packages near the gate.

And the Wolverines will throw out the welcome mat for Pack as he returns to town.

“He’s a Polk County native and former Polk County player and former football coach,” Ollis said. “He probably knows all our secrets.

“He’s a great friend and a great high school coach. I think he is one of the rising stars in the state as far as football coaches. I told him I’m pulling for him every game this season. Except one.”

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