Tayler Polk traces his tenacity back to tough lessons learned from his father years ago when he was a little kid growing up in Magee.
“He told me if you want something bad enough, go get it,” recalled Polk, Brandon High School’s star senior linebacker. “It’s all about heart. If you are fighting with a guy, you can’t lose if you keep getting back up. That’s been my motto ever since.”
It’s that motto that helped Polk pile up a mind-boggling amount of tackles to help lead Brandon to its most successful season in school history.
For his efforts, Polk is The Clarion-Ledger’s 2012 Metro Player of the Year as the best player in Hinds, Madison and Rankin counties.
Polk is just the second Brandon player in the award’s 33-year history to win the honor, joining 2001 winner Jerious Norwood, who starred at Mississippi State and played six years in the NFL. Polk’s defensive numbers are just as astonishing as those Norwood put up on offense.
Polk racked up 213 tackles, five sacks and two interceptions this season, saving his best performance for last.
Check out these crazy numbers from Brandon’s first trip to the MHSAA Class 6A state championship game.
South Panola ran 66 offensive plays and Polk was credited with 35 tackles — 16 solos and 19 assists. The fiery linebacker also had an interception and a fumble recovery in Brandon’s 31-23 loss.
“He is a guy that plays with a 100-percent motor all the time,” said South Panola coach Lance Pogue. “He never takes a play off. He plays with his heart and has a will to win. He never slacks up. He was around the ball all night and there’s no doubt he was the heart and soul of that team.”
Brandon coach Brad Peterson has seen that effort since Polk transferred from Magee as a sophomore. He finished his career with 584 tackles (152 as a sophomore and 219 as a junior).
“Tayler is just one of the best that’s ever been around here,” said Peterson. “You hear folks talk about a player having that ‘it,'” said Peterson. “Well, he’s got that ‘it.’ Without a doubt, he’s one of the best players in the state of Mississippi. He’s definitely the most intense player.”
In fact, Peterson rarely sees Polk when he is not intense.
“He’s always ready to go,” said Peterson with a laugh. “People ask me what he’s like when he was relaxed. I ain’t ever seen him relaxed. He likes to hunt, but I don’t know how because when you hunt, you have to be still and be patient and that’s not his forte.”
Polk says he unwinds by watching TV. And he sleeps a lot. But on the field, he never rests.
“I want to win so bad in anything that I do, so I don’t understand how a person can take a play off and still expect to win,” said Polk. “Whether I am playing pick-up basketball, ping pong or anything. People always say “aw it’s just a game. But forget that. It ain’t fun if you ain’t winning.”
Polk is unsure where he’ll play next. College coaches have been reluctant to offer him a scholarship.
He says Mississippi State has talked to him about being a preferred walk-on, while Ole Miss is taking a wait-and-see approach to see how many scholarships it has left. He hasn’t been recruited by Southern Miss. The lack of attention mostly stems from his size: He’s listed at 5-foot-11 and 195 pounds
“It’s tough, but all it does is motivate me,” said Polk. “Trust me, I get mad about it. When it boils down to it, on a Friday night it’s not about what you do at camp or how you run the 40. It’s about playing the game of football. I think I can compete with anybody in the country. I know I don’t have the prototypical size, but I make up for it with quickness and instincts and play with a chip on my shoulder.”
Peterson admits it will be tough next season not having Polk around, especially for his leadership skills. He was a unanimous pick before the season started to be a team captain.
“In three years, my players never heard me talk about Tayler Polk because he was out there with us,” said Peterson.” But now they will hear me talk about him all the time. I have coached guys like Dennis Thames (at Louisville) who played with great effort, but without a doubt, no one played with 100-percent effort, 100-percent of the time like Tayler Polk. I challenge anyone to go watch a game film and show me one play where Tayler took a play off. He just doesn’t do it. A lot of it is because he is undersized and he wants to prove the world wrong. Wherever he goes in college, he’s going to prove the world wrong.”
Polk is weighing his options on that, hoping the right opportunity comes along. He feels he has done his part.
“I know from an effort standpoint, I left it all out there on every single play,” Polk said. “I’m fine with that.”