Polk set for Newton-Conover challenge to kick off 2022 season

Published 9:20 am Friday, August 19, 2022

Bruce Ollis has seen quite a few season openers in his coaching career. The familiarity does not in any way diminish how he feels about the first kickoff of the season.

“Even in year 43, there’s great anticipation of finally getting to game week and preparing for another team,” Ollis said. “Whereas you’ve been trying to make yourself better, now we come to a point where we’ve got an opponent with an opposite-colored jersey that we’ve got to prepare for.”

Wearing those jerseys will be Newton-Conover, the Wolverines’ opponent in their season opener Friday at 7:30 p.m. as the two teams clash in Newton. It marks the second straight season opener between the two programs, with Polk County claiming a 28-7 win a season ago.

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The rematch will likely offer a much greater test for the Wolverines.

Newton-Conover returns a number of players from last season’s 3-7 squad, including junior quarterback Aiden Luangkhot. The Red Devils also welcome back two speedy running backs in senior Trey Stinson and junior Ethan Okoro, both of whom were sidelined last season by injuries.

“The quarterback is very athletic,” Ollis said. “He looks to be a little bigger, a little stronger, a little faster. He delivers the ball well and seems to be have a really good pocket presence.

“They’re a counter team primarily with their running game, and then they run the read option off of that. That means you’ve got to keep your backside defensive end home. Because if he reads it as a keep, then he’s taking that thing backside.”

Newton-Conover has a large senior class and ample depth this season, and that could allow head coach Stephen Pack, a former Polk County player and coach, to not play any linemen both ways. The Red Devils’ potential offensive line starters weigh 295, 278, 250, 235 and 244.

Polk County will likely have a number of players going both ways, but Ollis still feels good about where the Wolverines are at entering the opener.

“We’ve had two pretty good scrimmages,” he said. “We scrimmaged a 4A team from South Carolina (Eastside) and played them straight up, 14-all. Then we came over here the week before against what I think may have been the best Kings Mountain team I’ve seen in a while. And East Henderson is much improved. Those were three good testts for us.

“I think we’re pretty evenly matched with Newton-Conover. I think it’ll come down to conditioning some, execution, enthusiasm and effort. If we’ve got the three Es, we can come out on top.”

The road trip to Newton will be Polk County’s longest of the regular season. Waiting at the end will be a familiar and welcome face in Pack, whom Ollis calls a “great friend.” He hopes that friend also has a great season, though he’d prefer it not start on a winning note.

“I’m probably as close to Steve as any coach around,” Ollis said. “We joke around a lot and and we text all the time and send funny things to each other occasionally. But when the whistle blows at 7:30, it’s all business.

“There’s no doubt that at the end of the game, we’ll hug and care about each other just like brothers, regardless of the outcome. But during that time on the field, it’s business-like. Certainly we feel like we’ll get their best effort and I’m sure they’ll get ours.”