Roger Pollard and Tim Neal each had career-changing opportunities present themselves in the past few days.
When Jonathan Vilma, Pollard’s lifelong friend and former Coral Gables teammate, called him and offered him a chance to join a business venture outside of football, he couldn’t refuse.
Pollard, Gables’ coach, announced Monday he is stepping down from that position after five seasons during which he led the Cavaliers to a pair of district titles, as well as appearances in the regional finals twice and semifinals three times.
“It’s definitely a hard decision to leave Coral Gables,” Pollard said. “But I felt like this was something I wanted to do and see how it goes now and not have regrets down the road that I didn’t try it out.”
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Pollard then called Tim Neal, the coach at Southwest Miami and former longtime Coral Gables assistant coach, this past weekend and recommended him to be his successor.
Neal didn’t hesitate either, accepting the proposal once it was formally offered by the school on Monday.
Neal led Southwest to a 50-26 record over the past eight seasons in which he helped the Eagles win two district titles and advance to the playoffs six of those seasons. Prior to his stint at Southwest, Neal coached 10 seasons as an assistant coach at Gables under then-coach Joe Montoya as the Cavaliers’ offensive coordinator and receivers coach.
“I’m so grateful that Roger recommended me for the job, and it’s great to be going back to Gables,” Neal said. “I’m really excited to work with the kids over there, and I still know a lot of people at the school. Coaching at Southwest was a great opportunity, and I’m really thankful to everyone involved for my time there.”
Pollard, who compiled a 35-16 record while at Gables, will join Vilma, the former standout linebacker with the New Orleans Saints and the University of Miami, in promoting a local restaurant business. Vilma is a franchise partner of the restaurant chain, Pincho Factory, which has seven locations in South Florida, with an eighth soon to open, and one in Orlando.
“This was something I wanted to try out and help [Vilma] grow and keep turning into a big success,” Pollard said. “I felt like I would step out of football for a while, see how it goes and maybe bring some of the qualities I learned as a coach and bring that to Jon’s business.”
Southwest athletic director Jorge Diaz said the school will begin interviewing candidates for the vacant coaching position on Tuesday.
“We’re definitely going to miss Coach Neal,” Diaz said. “He did a lot of good things for our kids and ran a real disciplined program. I think that Coral Gables will enjoy having him back.”
American Heritage soccer standout Angel Breedlove signed with FIU.
▪ District 6-4A Quarterfinal — Hillel 71, Hialeah Educational 36: HEA: Arce 16, Duarte 6, Long 5, Ortiz 5, Soca 4. HIL (14-10): Ayache 20, Rosenthal 15, Ben-Shmuel 9, Klainbaum 7, Brener 6, Givner 4, Zaken 4, Assraf 4, Taieb 2. HT: HIL 40-17. Three-pointers: Ayache 6, Rosenthal 3. Rebounds: Klainbaum 12. Assists: Klainbaum 5, Ayache 5. Steals: Givner 3. Blocks: Klainbaum 3
▪ District 8-4A Final — Palmer Trinity 64, Palm Glades Charter 54 (OT): PT: Dani DeSola 6, Ally Esco 13, Keelin Herling 20, Sofi Iglesias 21, Cassidy Lewis 2, Katy Malloy 2. PGC: T. Lampkin 12, S. Swan 4, K. Rolle 2, A. Hunter 36. Three-pointers: DeSola 2, Esco, Herling 2, Hunter 5, Lampkin 2. Rebounds: Iglesias 14. HT: PGC 29-16. FT 54-54.
▪ Gulliver 16, Coral Reef 0: Francesca Nord 2 goals, 2 steals, assist. Alissa Pascual 5 goals, 2 steals, 2 assists. Sofia Takahashi goal, steal. GUL 4-1.
▪ South Broward 18, Cypress Bay 3: Emma Leto 4 goals, 3 assists, 3 steals, block. Mia Leto 6 goals, 5 assists, 4 steals. Karina Umana 5 saves.
▪ South Broward 12, Cypress Bay 1: Tyler Lopez goal, 6 steals, block. AJ Lopez 3 assists, 3 steals, 2 blocks.
▪ Region 3-5A Semifinal — Douglas 2, Coral Springs 0.
Gulliver’s Kayla Jensen is now a two-time state medalist after ending in fifth place at the FHSAA State Weightlifting Meet on Friday.
Region 4-5A final: Miami Beach at Cypress Bay, 7
Region 3-5A final: Vero Beach at Douglas, 7
Region 4-4A final: Fort Lauderdale at Doral, 7
Region 4-3A final: Immokalee at Plantation American Heritage, 7
Region 4-2A final: North Broward Prep at La Salle, 7
Region 4-1A final: Miami Country Day at Palmer Trinity, 3
District 11-9A quarterfinals at Deerfield Beach: Coral Glades vs. Taravella, 6; Douglas vs. Monarch, 7:30
District 12-9A semifinals at Cypress Bay: Western vs. Cypress Bay, 6; Piper vs. South Plantation, 7:30
District 15-8A semifinals at McArthur: South Broward vs. Nova, 5; McArthur vs. Cooper City, 7
District 16-6A quarterfinals at Coconut Creek: Stranahan vs. Coconut Creek, 6; Pompano Beach vs. Archbishop McCarthy, 7:30
District 13-5A opening round: Delray American Heritage at North Broward Prep, 5
District 14-5A quarterfinals at Calvary Christian: Pine Crest vs. Somerset Academy, 5; Cardinal Gibbons vs. Chaminade, 7
District 5-4A quarterfinals at Benjamin: Yeshiva vs. John Carroll, 6; Somerset Prep vs. Somerset Canyons, 7:30
District 7-4A opening round at Archbishop Carroll: Archbishop Curley vs. Riviera Prep, 7
District 8-4A opening round at Palmer Trinity: Palm Glades Prep vs. Everglades Prep, 7
District 8-3A semifinals at Posnack: Somerset Silver Palms vs. Coral Springs Christian-International School of Broward winner, 5:30; Champagnat Catholic vs. Posnack-Hebrew Academy, 7
Last week’s best Miami-Dade performances
TEAM OF THE WEEK
The South Dade wrestling team secured its eighth consecutive GMAC championship. The Bucs had seven individual champions — Bretli Reyna (106 pounds), Elijah Varona (113), Christian Morales (126), Brevin Balmeceda (145), Todd Perry (152), Chei Hill (220) and Kyron Taylor (heavyweight).
The South Miami boys’ basketball team won its first GMAC title since 2013. Senior Zack Dawson led the Cobras, scoring 30 or more points in each of the three tournament games and finishing with 92 points overall.
ATHLETES OF THE WEEK
Zahra Daniel, Central, girls’ basketball: Daniel had 13 points to help the Rockets beat Norland and win the District 15-7A championship.
Angela Denis, Keys Gate, girls’ basketball: Denis scored 43 points combined to lead Keys Gate to wins over Gulliver and Westminster Christian to secure the District 16-5A championship.
Franco Valdez, Southwest, wrestling: Valdez became the fourth wrestler to win four career GMAC titles and helped the Eagles earn a runner-up finish.
Marshall Sweet, Killian, wrestling: Sweet continued his undefeated season by winning the 195-pound GMAC championship.
Iker Sanchez-Gasser, La Salle, boys’ soccer: Sanchez-Gasser made two saves during penalty kicks and recorded a shutout to help the Royal Lions beat Gulliver in the Region 4-2A final.
Taylor Cosio, Lourdes, girls’ soccer: Cosio had the game-winning goal in a 1-0 victory over Cypress Bay that lifted the Bobcats back to the state final four for the second consecutive season.
Juliette Hamilton, Palmer Trinity, girls’ soccer: Hamilton had 18 saves to help the Falcons beat Miami Country Day 2-1 and advance to the Class 1A state final four.
Andre C. Fernandez