Leading 52-21 against Coral Park on Oct. 10 at Tropical Park, Braddock football coach Frank Rojas had his backups relentlessly march down the field in a no-huddle offense to score one additional touchdown as time expired. Then Rojas motioned for a two-point conversion on top of that.
Some would perceive this as running up the score, but what Rojas was doing was making an impossible dream a reality for one player on his team.
Running back Davonte Pollard is blind. Diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa when he was 9 years old, he began losing sight and thought he would never play the sport he loved again.
Finding a way
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But he found his way onto the football team and his number was called for the two-point conversion with zeros on the clock in his senior-year homecoming game. Pollard took the handoff and crossed the goal line to score for the first time.
“You couldn’t have written a better script,” Rojas said.
“It’s truly inspirational.”
Teammates gathered around Pollard and celebrated with him. He was still giddy postgame.
“After the game we were shaking hands, and I was so excited my hand was shaking,” said Pollard, who joined the team as a junior and had carried the ball twice coming into the game. “Everybody was happy for me; everybody was giving me hugs.”
As Braddock built up its lead by halftime, the message was conveyed to Pollard that he would get his opportunity.
“I didn’t really think that I was going to get in until I heard the coach say, ‘Look, this half you get ready, you strap up, you stay strapped up. The next time we score, we’re going to put you in,’ ” Pollard recalled.
Pollard can only see colors — blurry colors at that. When he runs, he looks for green (open field), he tries to run behind the blue or white that his fellow Bulldog blockers wear, and if he sees the opponent’s color, he knows a tackle is imminent.
While a hit may surprise him, he embraces the physical nature of the sport, which he experienced fully when Rojas tried to get him to score on an earlier two-point conversion — to no avail.
“He took a good lick on the first one. He comes back and I go, ‘Man, you got stuck!’ ” Rojas said. “Then after he gets in, he comes off and I tell him, ‘How did it feel to get stuck again?’ He goes, ‘Naw, Coach. I’m all right.’
The play Pollard scored on is called “47 stretch.” He lines up at wingback, motions toward the quarterback on “set” and when the ball is snapped he feels it handed off to him, takes two steps and cuts to the hole.
Talk of Pollard playing began during his sophomore year when Rojas saw him throwing a football in a physical education class and joked that he wanted him at quarterback.
Pollard couldn’t get the thought of playing football out of his mind. He would constantly pass by Rojas’ office, and Rojas told him if he got a physical approved, he would make the team.
“The furthest thing from my mind is that he’s going to come back with it,” Rojas says. “I said there’s no way he’s going to get cleared.”
Sure enough, Pollard returns with the approved physical. After Rojas checked it thoroughly to ensure it was legitimate and wasn’t forged, the school had conversations with the Greater Miami Athletic Conference, and Pollard hopped aboard.
The gratification Rojas felt for his decision reached an apex after giving Pollard a rush attempt his junior season in a game against Coral Reef.
“The players are tapping me and saying, ‘Coach, that’s Davonte’s dad,’ ” Rojas says. “Then I turn around and see the dad’s face and he just said, ‘Thank you. Thank you.’ He was so proud. He was so happy for his son.
“That moment to me is like a bonus check to any other employee — when they get that bonus check and they feel a great accomplishment and great financially. But to me, you can’t replace that feeling.”
A versatile student
Upon graduation, Pollard plans on attending Miami Dade College to earn his associate’s degree before transferring to FSU, where he hopes to study accounting, business and music.
Away from football, Pollard enjoys rapping, writing poetry and playing the piano and guitar. His inspiration in music, for obvious reasons, is Ray Charles.
Before he graduates, Pollard hopes to check one more accomplishment off his to-do list on the gridiron: score a touchdown.