With a second left on the clock, Braddock running back Davonte Pollard ran onto the field for the first time in his high school career. As Pollard took the handoff, his coaches and teammates cheered wildly as the junior ran the ball for a short gain.
What seemed like a routine play to end a football game, was the culmination of a lifelong battle over adversity for Pollard. Pollard, still gripping the football in his right arm, was surrounded by his teammates and coaches after the play.
“The whole team was hyped up,” junior Evans Othelot said. “Everyone was happy just for him.”
Pollard has had to deal with a unique set of challenges usually not encountered in high school sports.
Pollard is a blind football player.
Diagnosed with a debilitating eye condition as a young child, Pollard refused to let the disease and the eventual blindness that would follow determine his role in society.
“I have no fear. Getting tackled by a human being is no competition to me running into a wall, hitting a pole, a gate, a tree, a grill. That’s what I do on a daily basis,” he said. “Those things don’t move. I run into them and they stand still. I get more injured than they do.
“I run into a human being and I could break their leg or their arm. We can break each other down, or I could just run through them.”
Pollard had been contemplating the idea of playing high school football since his freshman year. Like any teenager, he looked to his parents for approval. Understandably, he was met with some resistance from them.
“They said: ‘What, boy? Are you crazy?’” Pollard said.
Pollard, who is close friends with several football players, started showing up to spring practice last season. Braddock coach Frank Rojas, impressed by Pollard’s enthusiasm, was happy to include him on the team, if Pollard could get the proper medical clearance. Pollard wasted little time getting it. This season, he has trained with the team since summer practice.
Then, after patiently waiting for his chance to play, Pollard was called off the bench by Rojas with his team leading Coral Park last Thursday.
Even Pollard was shocked.
“I didn’t even feel [the tackle],” he said.
A pee-wee football player growing up, Pollard was forced to abandon football when the disease, retinitis pigmentosa, slowly took away his ability to see. Adjusting to his new reality was not easy.
Pollard remembers a doctor telling him he was going to lose his vision. He was 9. The words sounded to him like an empty threat, or possibly, a cruel lie.
“One day I was crying and I told myself, ‘I’m not a cry baby,’” he said. “Even though you’re losing your vision, you can do a lot of things as long as you put your mind to it.”
That type of determination led Pollard to teach himself the guitar and piano in the years following the progression of his disease. An aspiring musician, Pollard writes poetry and is learning how to rap. Pollard looks to idols like Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles for inspiration. Music has been a creative release for Pollard. The soft-spoken teen has also started making music for hip-hop songs.
Pollard’s attitude and resolve has spread around the locker room. His teammates look to him for inspiration. With the team in the midst of a four-game losing streak, Pollard continued to encourage them not to give up.
“It made me appreciate more that I have the ability to play the game,” Othelot said. “Although he’s blind he still wants to play the game. It made me humble in a sense. It made me understand that I shouldn’t take what I have for granted.”