Polk County quarterback Reece Schlabach (Jane Ollis photo).

Touch of Polk County’s football past to help guide its future

Familiar faces from Polk County’s football past are hoping to help shape the Wolverines’ future.

Four former players as well as a former assistant coach have joined the Polk County staff in advance of the delayed 2020 season, set now to begin in early February with the start of practice and a Feb. 26 kickoff at Hendersonville to open the regular season.

The group of returnees includes former Polk standouts Andre and Derrick Overholt, Kamron Kerr and Reese Schlabach as well as ex-assistant coach Bobby Mercer. They join head coach Bruce Ollis and returning veteran assistants Jamie Thompson and Zach Searcy to give the Wolverines its largest staff on the sidelines in several years.

“I don’t think I can put into words how much it means to me, personally,” Ollis said of the additions. “At the same time, Andre Overholt, Derrick and Kamron Kerr and Reese Schlabach, they have instant credibility with our players.

“Maybe the biggest thing they bring to the table is the fact that their age, not being quite as ancient as mine, allows them to relate to the players a little bit better. And it’ll be the first time really we’ve had a true wide receiver coach and a defensive backfield coach. The great thing about those guys is they played those in college and on the high school level. I’ve learned some things from them already.”

Ollis expects the Overholts to work with wide receivers and Kerr and Schlabach to work with defensive backs. All four have full-time jobs away from campus, and Ollis has created a schedule to maximize their time with the players while hopefully minimizing the impact away from the field.

“I think they’re raring to go,” he said. “Every time I speak with them or text with them, they’re excited about being involved. One of the things they spoke to is Coach, this gives us an opportunity to give back to the Polk County football program, and I think it means a lot to them to be involved. They were all great players for us and it’s great for our team.”

Mercer, a science teacher at the school, will rejoin the Polk program to help coach defensive linemen. In addition to his time with the Wolverines, Mercer also coached at Asheville High and at schools in Florida.

“I’ve got him to come out of coaching retirement,” Ollis said. “The thing Bobby brings is a tremendous amount of experience. He relates very well with players. He’s great in the classroom, too, and he gets instant respect and credibility as a result of that.

“He’s been involved in state championship football at Asheville, and that’s a positive, so he brings that to the table. He’s a good man, he’s a good person and I think our players benefit from being around him.”

Thompson will help Ollis coach quarterbacks and running backs while also continuing to serve as the defensive coordinator. Searcy is adding a new title to his existing work with Polk’s offensive line.

“Zach has been doing such a great job as a worker. He’s my tech guy when it comes to uploading the film and breaking things down, and he and I have collaborated tremendously on the offensive scheme that we’re doing,” Ollis said.

“He’s been named co-offensive coordinator, so we’ll be still working in tandem for that, coming up with a plan each week for what we’re going to do offensively. I think he’s earned that position.”

The new-look Polk coaching staff will be leading a group of players who have experienced a 2020 like no other. Due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s now been more than a year since Polk’s last game, its 2019 playoff loss at Mitchell, and more than 16 months will have elapsed between games by the time the Wolverines travel to Hendersonville. Polk County has also added a scrimmage on Feb. 18 at 6 p.m. at East Henderson.

Ollis has been pleased with the enthusiasm and effort that Polk players have shown despite the long delay.

“I think our players have adapted really well,” he said. “They have maintained their focus, they have worked hard outside. I don’t have everybody in the weight room right now, but the ones that are in here are really working hard.

“I think that they’re looking forward to our different season, which is going to come in February. I’ve told our players all along the teams that are able to adapt and get through the protocols that may be in place and do some things that may be uncomfortable are going to be teams that are successful, particularly early.”

One change the program has faced of late is the recent North Carolina High School Athletic Association requirement that all players and coaches must wear masks in outdoor skill development sessions. It’s a change that has prompted a lot of discussion in high school circles across the state.

“I always have felt safe outside. We’ve trained outside since June with no issues,” Ollis said. “But if that’s the the mandate from the high school association, then that’s the one I’ll have to enforce as the head coach, and we’ll get through that.

“I think by the time football rolls around, we’re not going to be playing with masks on. I just don’t see how we could do that. But if that’s what they tell us we’ve got to do, we’ll do it. I tell people that football in February with seven games is better better than zero football. I’ve tried to look at the silver lining in everything that we’ve done.”