Braddock junior running back Davonte Pollard, with a little prodding from friends in the NFL and college, didn’t give up his dream of playing football despite a debilitating eye condition..
For not giving up, Pollard received the Leo Suarez/Walter Krietsch Courage Award during Wednesday afternoon’s All-Dade Athletic Awards breakfast.
His family began to notice the 9-year-old uncharacteristically missing teammates’ passes in optimist basketball, even though Pollard never complained about his sight. He also played football at the time.
Upon visiting the doctor, Pollard was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, a debilitating eye disease that limits vision to shapes and colors.
Seven years later, Pollard told his parents that he wanted to play football again. Scared at first, they originally told him no. They would eventually have a change of heart, deciding instead to support their son and his dream.
“He makes us strong,” his father Joseph said. “I still go crying and all that in the corners, but I don’t let him see that because I have to stay strong for him. Great kid, smart, everything.”
Pollard approached Braddock coach Frank Rojas, who said he could be on the team if he received medical clearance. Less than two weeks later, Pollard joined his classmates on the field, wearing pads and a helmet.
Until he began practicing with the team last spring, Pollard hadn’t played football since he quit sports upon discovering his condition.
During that time, he taught himself guitar and piano, citing Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles as inspiration.
This past fall on the final play of Braddock’s homecoming victory over rival Coral Park, Pollard entered the game and took a handoff.
“Just being able to do it again and being with the players, it was very intense,” Pollard said. “When everybody in the stands and on the sidelines saw me going in they started screaming.”
Following his senior year, Pollard hopes to pursue accounting, music or business at Florida State University.
That’s where one of his best friends, Devonta Freeman, will begin his junior season in the Seminoles backfield. He’s also a former standout at Central.
Freeman and Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Anthony Gaitor, Pollard’s godbrother, were the ones to convince Pollard to follow through on his dream.
“When I got to high school I thought, ‘How could I play football with a vision problem?’ ” Pollard said. “I talked to my friends, and they said I should do it and make history.”