VINCE LOMBARDI COINED THE PHRASE
“run to daylight,” but that strategy is not really possible for Davonte Pollard. The inspirational Braddock running back – who is blind – got two carries
as a junior last season.
In his high school debut, Pollard lost four yards
on a run against Coral Park, whose safety blitzed
to stop the play. Against South Dade, Pollard lost
five yards when he was crushed by a 280-pound
Pollard, who can only see figures and colors,
says he enjoys the contact.
“Those tackles were nothing – I didn’t feel any-
thing,” he said. “It hurts more when I bump into a
wall at school.”
Pollard grew up playing cornerback in youth
football. But, at age 9, he was diagnosed with reti-
nitis pigmentosa, an inherited and degenerative
eye disease that causes severe vision impairment
and often blindness.
IT’S SOMETHING JUSTIN TODD RARELY discusses, but the Oakleaf outside line- backer, his parents, and his siblings spent a couple of years in which they couldn’t
afford to pay rent and had to move in with other
families. When his father lost his job in the steel
industry, the family moved to South Carolina to
live with Todd’s maternal grandmother.
“It was me, my two sisters and my parents liv-
Eventually, Todd’s father, Charles, found work
ing with my grandma in a two-bedroom trailer,”
said Todd, a 6-1, 217-pound senior starter. “The
worst part about moving was saying bye to all
my friends. That hurt my feelings.”
For his freshman year at Oakleaf, the Todds
moved back to Orange Park, a suburb of Jack-
sonville, where they moved in with friends they
knew from church. That family of four had a
two-bedroom house and was able to make the
garage and living room available as makeshift
bedrooms for the Todds.
again in the steel industry and soon was able to
buy a house. The result is that Todd finally has
He was forced to quit football, which “hurt a lot,”
and picked up basketball until he had to stop at age
12, when his vision continued to deteriorate.
Pollard coped by teaching himself to play guitar
and piano, drawing inspiration from blind musi-
cians Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles.
“I write my own raps about my life and what I go
through,” said Pollard, who plans to major in ac-
counting and minor in music at Florida State.
But while music served as a pleasant diversion
for Pollard, he never forgot about football. After all,
Duke Johnson, a star running back for the University of Miami, is his second cousin on his father’s
side. Pollard is also close friends with Tampa Bay
Bucs cornerback Anthony Gaitor and FSU running
back Devonta Freeman. Pollard said all three athletes encouraged him to pursue football.
Enter Braddock football coach Frank Rojas, who
was repeatedly pestered by Pollard’s pleas to allow
him to try out for the team. Finally, in the spring of
2012, Rojas called Pollard’s bluff.
“I told him that if he took a physical and got
medically cleared, he could come play,” Rojas
said. “But I’m thinking: ‘No way a doctor signs off
his own room – not that the personal space is
what matters most to him.
“It’s a symbol that we made it,” Todd said. “It
didn’t have to be a mansion. I just realize that
my dad fought for his family, and now we have a
house. The room doesn’t even matter.”
Todd can now happily focus on football and
school – he has a 2. 65 GPA and wants to work
in animation one day.
He helped Oakleaf – which won a combined
total of just two games in its first two years as
a program – to a 6-4 record last season. Todd
finished with 125 tackles, two sacks and two
forced fumbles. He also had an interception
that he returned 60 yards for a touchdown.
So far, Wofford, Mercer, N.C. A&T and N.C.
Central have offered Todd a scholarship. Oakleaf coach Derek Chipoletti believes Todd has
the ability to perform well at the next level.
“Somebody who signs him is going to be very
lucky,” Chipoletti predicted. “I think he will end
up playing in the Sun Belt Conference or the
Chipoletti said his linebackers – Todd, sopho-
more middle man Shaquille Quarterman and
senior outside guy Darrion Owens – are the
on this.’ A week later, he shows up with all his pa-
perwork stamped and ready to go. I told my trainer
to triple-check it and ask the doctors if they under-
stood this was full-contact football.”
Pollard not only made the team – he made his
“He really brought our guys together,” Rojas
This year, Rojas says, the goal is to get Pollard
said. “The kids guide him up and down stairs and
really look after him. And Davonte works hard – he
does all the drills his teammates perform.”
And while Pollard’s two running plays were not
successful in terms of yardage, he showed tough-
ness by not fumbling on either play.
into the end zone.
But even if that never happens, Pollard’s career
at Braddock has already been a huge success.
The surest sign of that came after his first carry
on the final play of the Coral Park game. After it
was over, Rojas looked in the stands and caught a
glimpse of Pollard’s father, Joseph.
“He touched his heart and said: ‘Thank you,’”
Rojas said. “Seeing that dad so happy made it very
gratifying.” – WALTER VILLA
strength of the team. Quarterman and Owens
have multiple offers from schools in the SEC,
ACC, Big Ten and Big 12.
The trio has the respect of their teammates,
according to Todd.
“I’m not conceited at all, but from what I hear
from my teammates, we give them hope,” Todd
said. “We take charge of the defense and give
the younger guys advice when they need that.”
Any advice from Todd would surely come with
perspective uncommon for someone so young.
“Material things don’t matter,” Todd said. “What
counts is that no matter how bad times can get –
and I know it can get to the lowest of lows – if you
have a good family who stays tight through it all,
then anything is possible.” – Walter Villa
A CONCUSSION MAY HAVE BEEN THE BIG-
gest blessing in Logan Bradshaw’s life. Without
it, Bradshaw, a senior center at Eagle’s View High
School in Jacksonville, would not have been diagnosed nearly as quickly with a Chiari malformation
(a congenital defect where tissue in the brain is
forced down into the spinal column through a narrow hole in the skull).
The lingering issues in Bradshaw’s neck and
shoulder were thought to be just wear and tear
from football. Turns out they were warning signs of
something more sinister.
Without the concussion the 18-year-old Brad-
shaw suffered in practice, and then reinjuring
himself during a game against Fernandina Beach,
things could have turned out much worse.
“I didn’t know it but I was already starting to ex-
perience symptoms; I couldn’t feel hot or cold on the
right side of my body, I had really bad pain in my neck
when I sneezed or coughed,” Bradshaw explained.
There was only one choice – surgery to widen the
opening in his skull.
“The amount of pressure on his spine, a trip and
fall or a small accident could’ve paralyzed him,”
said Bradshaw’s mother, Angie Gregory, a nurse,
who was familiar with the condition before her son’s
diagnosis. “As a parent, it is incredibly hard for
somebody to tell you this is going on in your child.”
And now, the waiting game.
Bradshaw will soon find out if he can play his
senior season or if he’ll be the Warriors’ biggest
fan from the sidelines again. He’s fine either way.
If football doesn’t work out, it’s on to the next
phase – working toward attending the Citadel and
pursuing a career in the military.
“Even if it’s yes [he can play] or no [football is
over] there’s no being nervous,” Bradshaw said.
“Everyone has been very supportive, especially my
football coach [Ryan Keith]. I was nervous at first
but it’s not that stressful now.” – JUSTIN BARNE Y
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FRIDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL FLORIDA 2013