Helmets in hand, Polk County’s football players walked Tuesday from W.J. Miller Field, a second straight day of practice in the books.
It looked and felt like a normal late afternoon workout.
These days, that’s saying something.
Calling the past three weeks a long, strange trip wouldn’t seem to do justice to any of the events that have transpired around Polk County’s program, particularly the latest, that the news Monday that North Stanly, the Wolverines’ first-round opponent in the state 1AA playoffs, had been quarantined due to a positive COVID-19 test and would be forced to forfeit Friday’s scheduled opener.
Thus instead of patrolling the sidelines in search of a first-round win, Polk County’s coaching staff will travel to watch North Rowan and Community School of Davidson in their first-round matchup. The winner will host Polk County in the second round, providing all things proceed per schedule.
“What a weird 24 hours plus it has been,” said Polk County head coach Bruce Ollis. “I’ll be honest with you, it hurts me to know how bad they’re hurting in North Stanly.
“I emailed with their coach (Scott Crisco), and he said the community is hurting and the players and staff are hurting. Most of all, his seniors are hurting, because they’ll never get to play another high school football game.
“I think it was going to be a great high school football game. The guys really wanted to play and the coaches really wanted to coach.”
Polk County, of course, spent the past two weeks in its own quarantine, a positive COVID test within the program forcing the team to miss its final two regular-season games. The Wolverines have returned to practice this week and Ollis has been pleased with how the team has handled the latest twists in a season full of the unexpected.
“I’ve been very impressed with the team’s focus this week,” he said. “Even though we don’t have an opponent, their focus and precision have been excellent.
“We’re probably as healthy as we’ve been. Stevem Chupp has healed and he’s at 100 percent for the first time since the summer. He’s another weapon for us.”
If everything aligns and Polk County does take the field a week from Friday, it will mark the Wolverines’ first game since March 26, a 42-20 win over Avery. That’s perhaps the most worrying thing right now for Ollis outside of whomever takes the opposite sideline.
“That’s certainly the biggest concern we’ve got, waiting four weeks before we play another football game,” he said. “We’re going to have an intrasquad scrimmage (Wednesday) just to mimic some game situations. We need to have that atmosphere. You can’t mimic the game speed of a football game at practice, though.”
Through all the travails of the past three weeks, though, Polk County is still alive in the state 1AA playoffs and is just one win away from the first Western Regional final appearance in school history.
Grateful to still be playing, the Wolverines are. Taking nothing for granted is equally the case.
“We certainly didn’t want to get to the second round in this manner,” Ollis said. “We didn’t want to advance with a forfeit.
“We know what it’s like to be quarantined. What happened to North Stanly, who was undefeated and the number one seed, is very similar to what happened to our volleyball team, who was one of the best teams in the state (but missed the playoffs due to an end-of-season quarantine). So we just feel very fortunate to be where we are.”