FOOTBALL: Wolverines ready to kick off season of change
Published 12:09 pm Friday, August 18, 2023
There’s a window in the rear of the coaches’ office in Polk County’s field house.
For the past few years, lockers sat in front of that opening. But walk into the office today and light beams through the glass and onto the desk of first-year head coach Dustin Fry.
It’s a subtle reminder of the year of change ahead for Polk County’s football program.
Gone is former head coach Bruce Ollis, who retired as the program’s all-time winningest coach. Gone is Do-Everything-Shrine Bowl standout Angus Weaver, now at Lenoir-Rhyne. Gone is three-year starting quarterback Casey Beiler, who graduated along with several other key contributors from last season’s 6-5 squad.
Change is constant in high school football, and the Wolverines are certainly dealing with their fair share of that this season. But Fry and players aren’t hanging around the locker room worrying about that; much like that window, they’re preparing for Friday’s home and season opener against Madison with a new outlook and perspective.
“I feel good with this group,” Fry said. “Obviously, I wish I had about 15 more. But I always tell them, they’re all we’ve got and they’re all we need.
“We’re going to go to war with them, and that’s it. The next guy has got to step up and be ready.”
The change ahead for Polk County isn’t limited to personnel or off-field trappings.
“We’re a pretty different offense,” Fry said. “Terminology, formations, everything is completely different. It is a brand new offense for them.”
Senior Lawson Carter will lead the attack at quarterback. Carter saw limited action behind center last season, primarily in game-ending situations, and has not attempted a varsity pass. But Fry has been pleased with his progress in the offseason.
“It’s been nice to see Lawson step up and take ownership of the offense,” he said. “I think he enjoys running the offense. I haven’t unleashed him quite yet on some things, but I’ve given him ownership where he can change some things at the line, he can switch some protection.
“It’s a fun offense when you’re a quarterback and you can have some different reads and get a chance to run it.”
When Carter does drop back to throw, he’ll have quality targets. Senior Antonio Simpson needs just 372 yards to reach 2,000 yards for his career, the first Polk County receiver to ever reach that mark as far as anyone can determine. He comes off a school-record 1,094-yard season. Fellow senior Keaundrae Green caught 21 passes for 330 yards a year ago.
That duo will lead the offense. “Those are my go-daddys, for sure,” Fry said – but there are ample other threats. Tight end Bryson Jones is expected to be more active in the middle of the field. A backfield that includes Lorenyzo Sanchez, Alex Tipton, Logan Nodine and freshmen Styler Blackwell and Zach McCraw will help ease the pressure on the two seniors. Another freshman, Sawyer Huff, could also play a key role in the passing game, as will sophomore Nolan Simpson.
“I’m really high on LoSan, and when Alex Tipton gets in there, I think he’s going to do a really good job for us,” Fry said. “I love what Logan Nodine is doing. If I had 10 Logan Nodines, I mean, the guy’s a ball player. If you had a team full of him, you could win a lot of football games.
“Bryson Jones is coming on and catching the ball better, and that’s really big. We’ve seen some flashes on film where it’s been like, ok, you showed me you could do it. But, Tony and Keaundrae, obviously we’re going to scheme to make sure they’re getting their touches. If not, I’m not doing my job.”
The offensive line will have both new faces and familiar faces in new places. Angel Alvarez and Jadyn Virgil will line up at guards, flanking Connor Cantwell at center. Kole Powell has returned from an injury a year ago and will line up at left tackle, with Lucas Johnson manning the right side.
“Putting Kole out there, he’s a scrapper,” Fry said. “I know that makes Lawson feel good about his blind side. And I’ve been really excited about Lucas Johnson. The guy just comes to work every day. He’s a lunch pail guy.
“I’m excited about them. I just need to find a few more to back them up. The lines are where we’ve got to really come on. That’s the part I wouldn’t say is missing, but we just don’t have the size up front like we need. So we’ve got to scheme around it and be smart as coaches and make sure we’re not putting everything on them.”
Many of the same names will see time on the defensive side of the ball as well. Powell, Cantwell and Johnson could see time up front, along with faces such as Kam Montgomery, Jahkeem Lipscomb and Jeffery Gray.
Manning the linebacker slots will be Virgil, Zalen McCraw, Alvarez, Nodine, Antonio Simpson, Blackwell, Carmello Young, Billy Booker and others. Senior Avery Harden will likely also see time in the linebacker group.
The secondary will be anchored by Green, who will be joined by Sanchez, Nolan Simpson, Mykah Hills, Aaron Jackson, Tipton and others.
“Everyone’s over there. My left guard plays linebacker and that type of stuff,” Fry said. “That’s why summer conditioning was so important, getting these guys into shape and playing both ways. They’ve done a good job with it.
“But you always wait for that first game to see where we’re really at. That juice is going, you almost gas yourself a little bit in that first game. But, yes, we’re a two-way team as always.”
Nodine returns and will handle most of the placekicking duties, with Booker expected to take on punting chores.
“(Booker) can boom it when he hits it,” Fry said.
READY TO GO
A volunteer assistant coach a year ago, Fry is still learning about Western North Carolina teams, including those in the Mountain Foothills 7 Conference.
He’s good with that.
“I’m a week-to-week, day-to-day guy,” he said. “Our thing is, let’s be 1-0 every day and win the day, and then let’s be 1-0 at the end of each week. Then we’ll reset the week. If we’re 1-0 enough at the end of the season, we’ll have the right to play in the playoffs and go from there.
“I’m just trying to think about the next day, the next two days and work from there.”
The offseason of change has generated intriguing buzz around the Polk County program, with many looking forward to seeing how the Wolverines will tackle the challenges ahead.
Fry, who coached at three college stops before settling in Polk County, is also ready to get started.
“I’m excited,” he said. “I’m looking forward to calling plays. I’m looking forward to game planning. That’s really what I love. I love strategy, I love schemes, I love trying to figure out the wrinkle to beat a team. I love trying to out-coach coaches.
“That’s really what I enjoy doing, and I get to do it at this level with no recruiting. It’s a beautiful thing, and I’m excited to get going.”