READFIELD — Walter Polky wasn’t sure where he’d be coaching football this fall. Or even if he’d be coaching at all.

“I didn’t know what I was going to do,” he said. “I actually thought about maybe trying to go back to college.”

But then Maranacook Community High School came calling. At first, Polky was intrigued.

Then he realized he couldn’t say no.

“I thought it was a good opportunity. I thought it was a good way to spread football around and be able to help out,” he said. “And being able to help out, help this community out, it was a no-brainer.”

Polky is the new man in charge at Maranacook, and that charge entails turning around a football program that is high on enthusiasm and resolve but low on numbers, a more difficult hurdle in football, where size and depth are paramount, than in any other sport.

Polky’s not delusional. He knows it won’t be easy. But at the same time, he knows it’s possible.

“Certainly, it’s a challenge,” he said. “I love coaching football, I love teaching. And helping these kids out would be an unbelievable experience.”

He has the experience. A former player at Winthrop, where he was on the 2000 state championship team, and assistant coach at Bates College, Polky was the head coach at Spruce Mountain from 2012-16, where he went 24-17 and guided the Phoenix to three Class C playoff appearances and two regional semifinals.

Now Polky — who declined to comment on why he left Spruce — is trying to do his part in lifting Maranacook to those kinds of levels. It’s a tall order; Maranacook football, which dates back to only 1997, doesn’t have the long tradition other programs do, and the players are coming off a winless season in Class D during which each week meant being outnumbered and overwhelmed by bigger players and deeper rosters.

The Black Bears will get a reprieve from that this season, having moved into the new Class E, a developmental class for other schools looking to build their programs. The move will mean playing other teams in the same situation, but Polky said he’s trying to build traits that can be applicable across all classes — like confidence, for example.

“What it is is building a culture to win,” he said. “This team right now, they (were) on an 11-game losing streak. They (hadn’t) won a game since August of 2015.”

And though there are several differences between this program and Spruce’s, particularly in the football traditions and the player turnouts (Spruce’s low with Polky was 47, while Maranacook’s this year is at 22), Polky sees some key similarities. At Spruce, the challenge was bringing rival communities in Jay and Livermore Falls and turning them into a functioning team. At Maranacook, where player relationships are far more harmonious, the focus is still on team-building. And that’s enough for Polky to feel at home.

“Jay and Livermore were rivals, and we had to start from scratch,” he said. “And we had to do a new system and teach a new lesson, and those are the similarites. … Here, we’re going to start a new tradition, a new culture of winning.”

That confidence is rubbing off on players, though it took some time to get used to the new coach when he made his arrival.

“It was a ‘what’s he going to be like’ (thing),” sophomore quarterback Skyler Boucher said. ” ‘Am I going to like him, is he going to be too much for the football team, does he know how we are?’ But it worked out really well. It did take some time to get used to him, but not very much time at all. He’s very easy to get along with.”

Once Polky started unveiling and going through his schemes — most of which came from Bates and Spruce, such as his spread option offense — the players could see the football mind that helped turn Spruce into a perennial contender at work.

“He’s been pushing us to make sure we’re physically there, and he’s completely re-done our offense and defense to something that should work for our team,” junior fullback and linebacker Dakota DeMott said. “It seems to be working so far.”

Polky’s thinking on offense and defense embraces the limited numbers he has to work with. And, most important with a team with little experience, he keeps it simple.

“The reason that we run this style that we run is you don’t need prototypical players,” Polky said of his spread offense. “You don’t need big offensive linemen, and you don’t need fast running backs. You just need players that understand the game and understand responsibilities.”

The focus is the same on defense.

“We can be very multiple in the way that we look, but the rules are always the same. We do that so the teaching is easier for the kids,” he said. “We can have one front one week, then we can blitz certain situations and blitz different things so it looks totally different the next week. We try to make things very multiple, but very simple.”

The Xs and Os run secondary to the main message, however: If you’re not playing smart, you can’t play well.

“First things first, we’ve got to get our football IQ up. I’ve always been a believer that smart wins,” he said. “Our goal right now is to take care of the football, play smart and play fast. And if we do those things, the wins will take care of themselves.”

Polky preaches the fundamentals. And his players are listening.

“He really takes everything and expands it, and really goes into depth,” Boucher said. “To have his skill sets, because he does know a ton, is just really good for the team.”

No one — coach and players included — is expecting an overnight transition for the Black Bears. But there’s a confidence that the team is on the right track, particularly after an opening 21-0 victory over Camden Hills. The man in charge has seen it happen before, and he thinks he’s seeing it again.

“We want to make this thing right, and we want to make this thing right more than just one year. We want to keep this thing so it’s sustainable,” he said. “Hopefully, we can keep on continuing and continuing and continuing and build on what we’ve got.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM