Wolverines behind the scenes
Published 5:24 pm Thursday, October 23, 2008
&bsp;It was Friday night. It was the night that they all signed up for. But this night was special.
It was homecoming.
So they stared back at their coach, many of them with freshly shaved mohawks.
They walked through the defensive game plan. They walked through the offensive game plan. But it wasn&squo;t a soliloquy. As they were reminded of the plan, Ollis and defensive coordinator Jamie Thompson quizzed them, tested them to see if the knowledge of the week&squo;s practices and classroom sessions had stuck.
As they stood there, most in T-shirts and shorts, the rain began to pepper down just a little harder. The only player who had prepared for the weather was senior wide receiver Kamron Kerr, who was wearing a jacket with a hood, ready for the rain.
But Ollis didn&squo;t want his team drenched before the game, so he let them head up to the lockerroom for what he calls &dquo;quiet time.&dquo;
On a small sheet of paper,&bsp; stuck in every locker belonging to each football coach, was a schedule of how Friday would go.
The next item after walk through was &dquo;quiet time.&dquo;
&dquo;It&squo;s something I&squo;ve always done,&dquo; Ollis said. &dquo;Basically, it&squo;s a time to reflect on what they&squo;ve got to do. It&squo;s the first time they&squo;re asked to get into game mode.&dquo;
During this time, players aren&squo;t allowed to make any noise. They can watch a movie, listen to music, but they can&squo;t talk or goof off.
During quiet time, the coaches sit around and chat about a random assortment of topics, including the night to come.
Coach Richard Davis walked into the darkened gym, staring and contemplating the night ahead. Coach Pat McCool sat on Ollis&squo;s computer, checking the weather and playing games. Coach Josh McEntire and other coaches began handing out equipment, a task that generally happens during walkthroughs, which were cut short by rain.
And then the game tape on Avery was thrown into the DVD player. The coaches still talked, but they also watched the opponent they would soon see.
Coach Ken Tackett came into the office a little late. After changing into his coaching uniform, he sat down in front of a plate that had sat unattended.
It was the pregame meal.
On this Friday night, the pregame meal, prepared by Andre Overholt and Landon Schlabach&squo;s church, was &dquo;poor man&squo;s steak&dquo; and gravy, mashed potatoes, green beans, salad and three desserts.
But conversations about the rain persisted as different coaches checked the weather reports every few minutes.
The online reports were showing that the rain had moved beyond Polk County, but numerous checks outside the door revealed heavy rainfall. And then there was the evidence of a wet &dquo;Slick&dquo; Jackson, who was busy at work on his pregame duties.
But weather wasn&squo;t all that was talked about.
Coach Bobby Mercer mentioned a guy in Pennsylvania who ate a 20-pound burger. Mercer went on to describe the feat, explaining that the meat was 15 pounds and that the extras added up to five pounds.
After a little laughter, Thompson rocked back in his chair, put his hands behind his head, and smiled.
&dquo;I could do it,&dquo; he said.
The chat soon turned to the pants that were chosen for the night&squo;s contest.
&dquo;We&squo;re busting out the silver pants,&dquo; Ollis said. &dquo;Coaches&squo; choice.&dquo;
The players weren&squo;t thrilled that they&squo;d have to wear silver pants with their blue jerseys.And the coaching staff couldn&squo;t understand the objections to the choice. The Wolverines have been 2-0 playing in the silver pants, Ollis said. He added that the pants could be good luck against Avery. Leading up to the game, the Wolverines were undefeated on the road this season and were only 1-3 in the &dquo;Little Big House.&dquo;
The Wolverines had something to prove this night in front of the homecoming crowd.
Near the end of quiet time, the sounds began to emerge from the locker rooms. Antsy players began to make noise. Laughter came through the doors.
Finally, the players were allowed to come out of the locker rooms for the final time before warm-ups on the field.
It was last minute study time.
The players filed into the gym for one last cram session.
They got into position groups and moved around to each coach.
Huddled up, they were given reminders. They got last minute tips. It&squo;s something that Ollis and the coaching staff started three weeks ago.
&dquo;That came out of a Sunday coaches&squo; meeting,&dquo; he said. &dquo;Coaches like it.&dquo;
Just minutes after the group sessions, music began playing in the locker rooms. Players were laughing and loosening up or just getting pumped for the war they were about to fight.
At 6:30 p.m., coaches led the first group of players out onto the field. This was the first time that fans got to see the team before the game.
The night air was chilled. A breeze sent chills throughout the stadium. There was still a slight mist sprinkling the stadium.
The Wolverines made their way across the track that circles the football field and the warmups began. The offense began working on passing drills. Kerr practiced his punting.
After the rest of the players arrived, the stretching session began. As every player sat and stretched, Ollis worked through a game day ritual. He weaved through each line of players, patting every one of them.
After the warm-up session, Ollis and the Wolverines headed back up to the field house.
In the gym, coach Jane Ollis and the cheerleaders had the night&squo;s banner that the players would soon run through strewn out on the floor.
As the coaches made their way into the locker room, there were last-minute pats on the back and &dquo;good luck&dquo; comments.
Ollis walked into the locker room. He stood in the center, and players were sitting along the walls in front of their own lockers. They focused on their leader.
As he began to speak, the sound of the fans and music in the stadium served as a backdrop.
&dquo;I told you a couple of weeks ago,&dquo; he said. &dquo;Homecoming&squo;s not a lot of fun if we don&squo;t win.&dquo;
&dquo;I&squo;m proud of you,&dquo; he said. &dquo;We&squo;ve had a great week of practice. We&squo;ll be the team that plays better.&dquo;
The players were visibly excited. They jumped up, surrounded their coach and bowed their heads in prayer.
As they emerged from their prayer huddle, in unison they all screamed, &dquo;Wolverines! Play 16!&dquo;
With helmets strapped on, the players huddled at the door, awaiting the signal to exit the field house.
Beneath the door is the doormat that Polk takes with them to every road game. The mat has brought luck this season, so Ollis decided to put it out for Friday night.
Then a whistle beyond the door signaled the players to exit.
On their way out, they touched a Polk football helmet and then a sign above the locker room door that reads &dquo;play like a champion.&dquo;
Beyond the door is the journey they take every Friday night, known as the &dquo;Victory Walk.&dquo;
The Wolverines lined up in front of the &dquo;Victory Walk&dquo; sign.
The energy was beginning to build in the stadium. The fans knew what was coming.
And finally, the slow walk began as the Wolverines walked behind the stands and began the walk down through the bleachers.
There was a small difference this night, however. Generally, the game captains don&squo;t do the &dquo;Victory Walk.&dquo; They&squo;re always down on the field for the coin toss.
This night, however, all the Wolverines were captains. They all walked out to mid-field for the coin toss.
After the toss, they made their way to the south endzone and huddled up behind the cheerleader&squo;s banner.
The Wolverines were pumped and rabid. They slapped at the sign and were scolded by the cheerleaders. It didn&squo;t matter.
Nothing was going to calm them down. Ollis began barking motivation at his team, screaming that tonight they were going to win.
Finally, the Wolverines broke through the paper sign, running between the cheerleaders and band over to their sidelines where they were greeted by screaming fans.
It was game time.
&dquo;It&squo;s going to be a long halftime,&dquo; Ollis said to his players. &dquo;Take a load off.&dquo;
The Wolverines returned to their lockers with a 21-7 lead at halftime.
Spirits were high.
The coaches huddled up in the fieldhouse office, discussing what worked and didn&squo;t work in the first half.
They talked about the opposing team&squo;s personnel, plays and a game plan to continue the domination the Wolverines showed over Avery in the first half. They talked about plays that had run and those that hadn&squo;t run.
After the strategy session, Ollis returned once again to the locker room to provide some final inspiration.
He talked about the first drive out of the half the previous Friday on the road against Mitchell.
The Wolverines got the ball back and drove downfield, but couldn&squo;t punch it in.
He wanted the end result to be different in the opening drive in this half.
&dquo;Let&squo;s finish,&dquo; he screamed to his players.
And again the Wolverines emerged from the fieldhouse door to the gridiron.
The Wolverines sat by and waited for the homecoming festivities to end and the homecoming queen to be announced.
But when they got back on the field, they did what Ollis wanted them to do. They drove downfield and scored on their first drive and finished the game with a 28-7 victory.
In the postgame huddle, Ollis stood, surrounded by happy players and happy fans. With a big smile on his face, he talked about the silver pants.
&dquo;We&squo;re going to wear them again, that&squo;s for sure,&dquo; he said to cheers.
The players finished the night with barbecue chicken prepared by Jane Ollis, and the last man in the fieldhouse was coach Ollis.
It&squo;s his final responsibility to turn the lights off.
But coach Thompson generally hangs around with him, he said.
&dquo;It can be a very long evening,&dquo; Ollis said.&bsp;