Not so, said Wildcats Coach Derrick Davis, who feels this time around tradition will have to be matched by desire and determination — if a sixth trophy is to be added to the display case.
“Who knows what these guys are thinking? Who knows what is going through their minds? We’ve got the target on our backs until we get knocked off,” said Davis, who will lead the Wildcats in their season opener Friday against Bradley Central in Bear Stadium.
“I’m sure the other teams in our district are saying this is their year. We’ve got to be ready every Friday night and hope [the players] are thinking like we are,” said the coach of having his squad keep up the hard work and discipline that have led Polk to success in recent seasons. “But you never know. You take things for granted and think they know how to do something, and they will surprise you. The more people we can get to think the way we’re thinking, the better off we are going to be.
“It’s been a good run. But what we’ve done the last five years — and I’m trying to get the guys to understand it — is not going to help us in any games this year. Sometimes you can ride tradition for a quarter until the other team realizes this isn’t the same type Polk team they have been seeing. So it’s up to our team if we are going to continue to do the right things and play hard, smart and tough. It isn’t going to take these teams long to figure out whether or not they are getting the same type stuff they have been getting from us, or is it something totally different.”
On the numbers front, Davis admitted the total is a bit lower than previous years, which will cause concerns in the depth department.
“Our numbers are down. I think we have 51 players and will probably dress in the high 40s. A few year ago we were carrying 75 plus. One of the big concerns because of that is injuries and depth. Getting worn down in the fourth quarter is what we used to do to other people. It’s a concern. I’ve had to rethink how we practice, to a degree. We try to practice smart; we sure don’t want to get anybody hurt. Hopefully, we can stay injury free. Sometimes it hits and you have multiple injuries and some years you are relatively luck. We are hoping we can stay healthy,” he said.
The Wildcats will return five starters on defense and three on the offensive side of the ball, which means Davis will see a higher level on inexperience than what the Wildcats have enjoyed in previous seasons.
“There are a lot of new faces out there. The expectations are the same, but the experience in a lot of areas is not there as it has been in some years. But everybody goes through this, and we’re hoping we can have some guys step up. But in certain positions when the guys who are in there right now have to come out, there is a significant dropoff. In the years past we have had pretty good depth when the guys had to play both ways. We will have more playing both ways, which means conditioning will be a big key early in the year.”
Traditionally, the Wildcats have not been known as speed burners from top to bottom. This time around is no different, and perhaps the team is a bit slower overall, according to the coach.
“Average is pushing it,” Davis said with a knowing chuckle. “We had some guys who could run last year. I timed them in the 40 this year and realized why I quit doing that. We’re not very fast. That’s why it’s important to get good angles and good position. Speed can make up for mistakes; we don’t have that luxury as a team. We’re not real fast this year.”
The Wildcats certainly have some big shoes to fill with the loss of all-state fullback/linebacker Zach Miller to graduation. Seth Sloan, a 6-foot, 200-pound sophomore who saw some action at fullback but spent the majority of time at defensive tackle, will wear the mantle of workhorse for Polk in 2014.
“Anybody who has seen us play knows the importance we put on our fullback position. He played a lot last year at defensive tackle. He’s not as big as some of the fullbacks we’ve had, but we feel pretty good about him. He hasn’t shied away from who he is replacing. It’s time for him to make his own mark,” said the Polk coach.
“He is a hard-nosed kid, very quiet, very hard working, very dependable. He’s going to be here, and he is going to give you a good effort. He is just a sophomore. He’s pretty young, but we’re expecting him to play like a senior. The thing about playing him this year is we will have him for three years. Even Miller didn’t start until his junior year. It’s inevitable there are going to be comparisons, which is not fair to Seth or any of the guys who step in as replacements for those who have moved on. He is going to do some good things; they will just be in different ways from what we’ve had the last couple of years.”
Leading the Wildcats under center will be senior Isaac Smith, who has been a backup in the system the last coupe of years.
“He has been our backup, and we have worked him in some other areas. He has mainly played defense. He is like a lot of our quarterbacks, a one- or two-year guy. The last three-year quarterback we’ve had since I’ve been here is (Jared) Allen. Smith is one of those guys you can put in there and rely on. If you know how we play, our quarterback is another running back. Nothing has really changed offensively, but we felt like him stepping in will add another dimension for us. I think he’ll do a good job for us,”
At wingback for the ’Cats will be junior Reno Wimberley, with fellow junior Ben Norwood also seeing action. Helping Sloan out at the fullback slot will be Kendrick Tinker, another sophomore.
“Tinker is also our backup quarterback. Norwood will roll in for us at fullback on occasion,” said Davis.
At tailback, senior Ryan Rowland will get the lion’s share of action. He will be backed up by senior Tristen Senn.
“There will be a combination of those guys,” said Davis. “There is no doubt most of the guys I named will be playing defense also, so you may see a combination of those guys working two positions, on offense and defense.”
The only returning offensive lineman Polk County will have is 6-foot-1-inch, 245-pound Keegan Ingram who will fill one of the guard slots. Toot Swallows, a 5-foot-11-inch, 300-pound senior and Amos Rogers, 6-0, 230 pounds, also a senior, will fill the tackle slots. Along with Ingram, 6-foot, 200-pound senior Chance Hood will hold the other guard slot.
A returner on the line who will be moving to a new position is 6-foot, 185-pound senior Jakob Davis.
“It’s going to be a good question on who will be the first guy in to give these guys a breather,” said Davis.
There are four Wildcats who will be working the tight end position. Senior Luke Harrison and Tristen Cheatham will see action, as will junior Jake Carden. Also rolling in will be sophomore Logan Griswold.
“All four of those guys will see the field. They will rotate in and out situationally and carry plays in,” Davis said. “We do need depth in the line, but we have a few linemen to begin with that can go up against the schedule we are facing and be productive.”
The coach said the Wildcats have shown progress on the offensive side of the ball but admitted there is a long way to travel before the season opener. The good news for Davis is the Wildcats he is counting on offensively have come up through the Polk system and are very familiar with plays and schemes. Davis said it is simply a matter of execution and determination.
“We have to be really simple. We’re doing the same thing we have always done so a lot of these guys have a grasp of what we are doing anyway. It’s a matter of blocking. We are going to have to get better at that, staying with our blocks, going to the whistle and not stopping. Our first scrimmage we weren’t very good at that. You can scheme and do anything you want, but it boils down to blocking. That’s a point of emphasis if we are going to be successful in what we do,” said the Wildcats coach. “We have been doing this for years so they are very familiar with what we do. That’s why it’s a little bit easier for them to learn another position. Once again, we don’t have the depth but we feel we have guys that can contribute.”
Coming back on the defensive side of the ball, the Wildcats will return Smith who played inside linebacker in 2013. Harrison will be back as a defensive end and Sloan comes back to defensive tackle while Norwood returns at outside linebacker. Rowland will be back on defense in a new spot in the secondary.
“We’ve got three guys staying in the same positions on defense,” stated Davis. “The secondary will consist of three out of four guys Wimberley, Smith, Rowland and Cheatham. They will also play offensively some.”
At inside linebacker, new faces will be on the field for Polk. Senn, who started on occasion at outside linebacker last season, will see some time at the position. Tinker and Amos Rogers will share duties four yards off the ball. At outside linebacker will be returner Norwood on one side while Hunter Wilcox and Chase James will battle it out for the other slot. At defensive end, Harrison will see plenty of action while Carden will play the opposite side.
The only starter at tackle so far for Davis is Sloan. The other tackle slot will be by committee.
“We’re hoping Trent Ledford will be one that can help also,” said Davis. “Ingram will also play in there along with some other guys. We are still looking for depth and people who want to play.”
Defense is a concern of Davis who said finding the right combination of people to fill slots needs to progress quickly.
“We need to get a lot better,” he said. “Nobody ever says they are where they need to be, but we’re really not. After the first scrimmage these guys are going to have to understand what we expect in terms of getting to the football, getting in good stances and getting lined up correctly. I know it’s early and we’ve got 10 games guaranteed. A lot of times you will see improvement throughout the year. We’re picking it up but there are a lot of new positions and a lot of new people, period, out there for us. It will take a little bit longer than it would if you had seven or eight returning.”
Davis said there was a time when, even though the Wildcats worked hard and earned what they won, reputation played a big part in some wins. This time around, however, the hard work must be racheted up a notch and reputation means nothing when the clock begins ticking down. The Wildcats will not be able to count on past glory to carry the through the 2014 season.
“We’ve had to work for it all these years. If these guys think for one instant what we’ve done the last five, six, seven years is going to make things easier, they are in for a big surprise. We are going to have to work really hard. No. 1, because of lack of depth and experience.
“There needs to be a sense of urgency at practice. We’ve probably got the smallest coaching staff around and we do not have the luxury of a lot of individual time. They are going to have to pick this stuff up by paying attention. When you’re having to repeat, repeat and repeat directions to do a drill it becomes frustrating. If you can’t do a drill right in practice, how are you going to get out there and pick up what we’re doing defensively?” Davis asked.
“Our job is to find 11 that can do that. What we start out with the first ballgame may or may not and probably won’t be what we finish the year with. There will be somebody who will be a surprise, get out there and make some plays in a JV game and get moved up. That happened last year. It’s day by day with these guys. Just because you are a starter today doesn’t mean you will be a starter tomorrow. If you don’t give effort I can put anybody in there. We can win or lose with a freshman as opposed to a senior or upperclassman that won’t give effort.”
Win or lose, Davis said what he is looking for overall is effort out of the 2014 Wildcats. Naturally, he prefers winning over losing.
“I won’t feel as good if we lose, but I can take losing a ballgame when we give all we’ve got. Effort can get you so far; you have to have a little talent and we’ve got a lot who need to improve that talent. We’ve got to get stronger. It’s hard to do anything about speed right now. Sometimes you have to play above your head. You have to play smart and not turn the ball over. We’ve got to make the sure tackle to stay in the games. Hopefully we can be consistent every week in what we’re doing,” said Davis.
“If we can stay consistent, we will be competitive in every game and give ourselves an opportunity — that’s all you can ask.”
Polk County Wildcats
2014 Football Schedule
Date Opponent Time
Aug. 22 at Bradley Central 7:30 p.m.
Aug. 29 Chattanooga Central 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 12 East Ridge 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 19 at McMinn Central* 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 26 at Walker Valley 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 3 Sequoyah* 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 10 at Notre Dame 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 17 Sweetwater* 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 24 South Pittsburg 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 31 at Loudon* 7:30 p.m.
*District 5-AA opponent
9-3 overall, 4-0 District 5-AA
Date Opponent Result
Aug. 23 Bradley Central 29-27
Aug. 30 at Chatt. Central 35-15
Sep. 13 at East Ridge 19-20
Sep. 20 McMinn Central* 21-14
Sep. 27 Walker Valley 33-7
Oct. 4 at Sequoyah* 21-14
Oct. 11 Notre Dame 12-10
Oct. 18 at Sweetwater* 41-13
Oct. 25 at South Pittsburg 24-30
Nov. 1 Loudon* 35-21
TSSAA Class 3A Playoffs
Nov. 8 Sequatchie County 49-7
Nov. 15 Notre Dame 14-24
*District 5-AA opponent