BENTON — Having a big target on their backs is one of the forces driving the defending three-time District 5-AA champion Polk County Wildcats as they inch closer and closer to a season where everyone will be gunning for them.
“We have been fortunate to win the district the last three years, and we have a target on our backs. It took us a long time to finally win it. I know the hunger there of wanting to win a district championship, and I know those other teams in the district are feeling that hunger,” stated Polk County head coach Derrick Davis.
As the morning fog started burning off the mountains that serve as a backdrop to the Larry Davis football complex, the 2012 Wildcats were busy making sure their opponents would quickly remember what got Polk to where it is.
A smash-mouth ground-and-pound attack, complemented by quick, organized passing and punctuated by a physicality and intensity that the Wildcats have built their name on will be the go-to plan again this season.
“We aren’t going to change much at all from our style. We adapt a few things here and there to fit personnel, but it’s just like any other team doing what they believe in. This is what we believe in,” Davis explained.
“Our goal is not to come out and beat ourselves with penalties and turnovers. We try to control the ball. We will throw the ball, but it’s no secret that we are a running team.”
Yet, after losing some key pieces to last season’s 8-4 team that advanced to the second round of the TSSAA playoffs the coaching staff is looking to some new faces to step in and fill some of those key roles.
“Every year we lose some good players, but we aren’t going to use that as an excuse. I don’t like saying we’re a young team. It’s our job to get these guys ready. So, we are working a lot of people,” said Davis.
“These guys have a really good attitude. They show up at 8 a.m. Everyone is here. There have been some pleasant surprises, and we have had some kids step up into roles we had some questions about.”
With over 20 freshmen coming out for this year’s squad, Davis is instead using the young ages to try to install some new modifications to the Polk County game.
But, for right now Davis and his coaching staff are focused squarely on this season, which is quickly approaching.
“Some of our guys still think we have a long time to go, but it’s going to be here before you know it. We only have two weeks of pads before game week. So, every drill, every team session, whatever we are doing has to be about getting better,” Davis expressed.
“We need to develop a sense of urgency when we are out here. August 17 we are kicking off against a very good Bradley Central team. Every day, every drill, every minute we are out here we need to be getting better.”
After one more week of “shorts” practice the team will put on the pads and shift focus from conditioning and fundamentals to the physical blocking and tackling they are known for.
Those aspects of the game will be key for the “Big Red Train” to get on the tracks and run away to a fourth consecutive district title in a group where anything can happen.
“I feel like the district looks wide open this season. It’s any given night, in my opinion. Sweetwater has a new coach in Craig Moser. He’s a really good coach. (McMinn) Central, Sequoyah and Meigs have all gotten better,” said Davis.
“We are gong to have to have our best effort for those four district games. I can’t stress how important those games are. One loss in the district puts you way behind.”