Tommy Polley runs to the middle of the field to join the huddle of players during a timeout. It’s fourth down, and their backs are 10 yards away from their own end zone. The Eagles are holding onto a 13-point lead in the fourth quarter.
“I told them I don’t even know what play to call because we’re in position and just have to make the play,” said Polley, the ' first-year defensive coordinator.
Unable to make a defensive stop on the drive, the Eagles defense gives up the touchdown. Two minutes later, Elkton scores another touchdown on a 22-yard pass to take the lead by one point. There’s less than seven minutes left to play in the game, and it appears Aberdeen is running out of juice.
Not being able to finish football games has plagued the Eagles for the past five years. This spring, Aberdeen Athletic Director Tim Lindecamp , who recruited Polley to coach the defense, to reverse this trend.
“The big thing is that they brought some discipline back to the team,” Lindecamp said. “ played at Clemson, and of course Tommy played at Florida State and the NFL, so it shows the kids if you work hard what you’re going to accomplish.”
Polley was a second round pick in the 2001 draft and played in the NFL for six years with the Rams, Ravens and Saints. After retiring from professional football, he returned to the game as a mentor for students and to rebuild the Aberdeen football program with Brooks.
“I’m always giving them advice on every little thing that they do as far as the technique of how they work and what it’s going to be like next year when they get to college with expectations for them on and off the field,” Polley said. “All of the experiences that I have, I’m trying to teach them. Even if they don’t want it, I just try to give it to them.”
Eagles junior nose tackle Kyeneen “Cornbread” Montague said that, after a a year ago, he and his teammates can “wear their jerseys with pride.”
“We’ve improved a lot from last year,” Montague said. “He’s just a good coach who knows what he’s talking about and knows how to train us.”
Polley, 33, has been taking all of his collegiate and professional playing experience and using it to revamp agility and conditioning training at Aberdeen.
During the summer, players had to pick up and flip industrial tires as a part of a new drill. The coaches love the training because the players can’t cheat themselves, like doing a half rep instead of a full rep in the weight room.
“He’s a breath of fresh air,” Brooks said of Polley. “He’s new to the high school game, and he brings a lot of college and professional know-how. He’s got the kids running and jumping, and he’s doing a great job.”
When Brooks was coaching the Havre de Grace football team, he invited Polley to talk with his players as they were preparing for , where Polley attended high school.
Eagles senior defensive tackle Brenton Barnes transferred from Havre de Grace to Aberdeen this year.
“Coach Polley has been in the league, and he knows what it takes to get there. I’m just trying to soak up everything I can,” Barnes said.
Eagles senior linebacker/quarterback said he did not know Polley's background when he met the coach.
“I was like, ‘Who is that?’ And when he got onto the field, he was killing us,” Faulcon said. “He’s all about business. When the other team scores, he has us running. He doesn’t play games.”
But the players agree that Polley’s drills throughout the week help them prepare for game time on Friday.
Back on the field at the Elkton game, the Eagles offense scores a touchdown to recapture the lead, 24-17, with about two minutes to play. With the football in Elkton’s possession, the Eagles defense finds itself in another fourth down situation—one stop away from sealing a victory.
Polley screams “Big Raven,” a defensive scheme, to his players on the field. The ball is snapped and as the Elkton quarterback releases the ball, Faulcon knocks the ball to the ground to secure the win.
That "Big Raven" scheme is one that Polley calls upon often during key plays, and it's one he learned while he was a Raven.
“That’s something Rex taught me,” Polley said.
Now Polley is passing it on to a new set of birds—the Aberdeen Eagles. And he's hoping that "Big Raven" scheme might help the Eagles come up big, too.