POLK COUNTY WILDCATS
Head coach: Derrick Davis (129-93 here; 135-112 overall)
Returning starters: 4 offensive; 6 defensive
Last year's record: 6-5, lost in TSSAA Class 2A first round
Key players: Damian McWilliams (6-1, 185) Sr. WR/DB, Cade Brewer (5-10, 225) Jr. QB/MLB, T.J. Hawkins (6-1, 220) Sr. OL/DL, Dillon Parnell (5-10, 170) Jr. RB/LB, Cecil Burns (5-11, 170) So. QB.
Season outlook: Last season should have erased any lingering doubt about what Davis means to his alma mater. After the Wildcats went 4-26 with no playoff appearances in the three years after Davis left, the team returned to its winning ways — and the postseason — in his first season back as head coach.
Now they return all their skill position players from 2022 and are working to build enough depth up front to push further into the playoffs.
"We're trying to get guys to learn two positions, because last year a couple of injuries really crippled us at times," Davis said. "The biggest thing is that we've had a full year in our system and with our weight program now. I got rehired over the dead period last year, so we were pretty far behind.
"Even though we've only got nine seniors, those guys bring a lot of talent and leadership."
Last year's most versatile player, McWilliams, returns after posting 700 receiving yards on offense and nine interceptions on defense. He will once again be a major factor in the team's success, along with Brewer, who may see time at more than one backfield position this fall.
"If Burns can step up and take some snaps for us, it would allow us to use Brewer as a running back at times, which would give us a physical-style runner. We're not known for throwing the ball much, but we did have more than 1,000 yards passing last year, and having McWilliams back will help us be more balanced than usual because he's just such a great athlete on both sides."
Another aspect that should help Polk's outlook will be playing in a new region that won't include perennial playoff powers Meigs County and Tyner. The Wildcats will now compete in Region 2-2A with Bledsoe County, Oneida, Tellico Plains, Wartburg and York Institute. Of that group, only Bledsoe and York had winning records last year, while the other three each lost seven games.
"We can be competitive with just about anybody on our schedule now," Davis said. "The younger players need to come along like we think they can. If that happens, we could be pretty solid."
Contact Stephen Hargis at [email protected].