Since losing most of his sight seven years ago, Braddock (Miami)
junior Davonte Pollard
said his other senses have intensified enormously.
Through touch, the 16-year-old can read - "I learned Braille within two months," he said proudly – and make music. He plays the guitar and piano.
His voice is loud and clear – he sings and raps and one day hopes to be the next Stevie Wonder or Ray Charles. He can also say the name of the inherited, degenerative eye disease that took his sight — "Retinitis pigmentosa
" — with perfect diction and pronunciation.
Pollard's greatest sense, he says, is hearing.
"I can be on one side of the gym and hear what someone is whispering on the other," he said.
But Pollard thought his ears were playing tricks Sept. 27 when he heard Braddock football coach Frank Rojas yelling his name on the sideline.
It was the final seconds of the Bulldogs' homecoming game with archrival Coral Park and 5,000 fans filled the stands.
"I was stretching and the next thing I know I heard ‘Davonte is going in,'" Pollard said.
At that point, Pollard thought it was some sort of dream. He recalled his stream of consciousness: "No. Davonte who? Nah, nah, nah, it can't be me. He's probably calling someone in the stands."
This was no dream. Pollard, a 5-foot-8, 160-pound legally blind running back, was going into a varsity football game to carry the ball against 11 fully sighted, angry Coral Park players who were trailing 35-20.
But this is exactly what Pollard wanted when he came to Rojas last spring, when he asked if he could come out for the team. Pollard, a vivacious, popular kid, knew numerous players on the squad and was always around the football program.
He was a football star as a youth – "they called me Deion Sanders because I was a lock-down corner," Pollard said with a giant smile – so he thought why not? Why couldn't I play?
So, he asked Rojas, a 22-year coaching veteran with an iron fist and heart of gold who has kept a once-healthy and flourishing football program afloat to give kids an avenue out of the inner city, for a spot on the roster. For a chance to rub shoulders with the big boys and rekindle a dream he had back when his sight was perfect and his heroes were larger than life: Sanders, Walter Payton, Barry Sanders, Peyton Manning and Michael Vick.
Rojas thought why not? He liked Pollard's charm and spirit and gumption.
"He's a great kid with a lot of character," Rojas said. "He is a character."
He told Pollard if he filled out the paperwork, got clearance from medical people and his parents, by all means, he could join the team.
"Frankly," Rojas admitted. "I didn't think he'd follow through. But he called my bluff."
Indeed, three weeks later Pollard returned with papers signed and sealed. He passed every physical exam as well.
"I double and tripled checked everything," Rojas said. "Honestly, I never thought it would all get cleared."
Said Pollard: "I think I shocked him a little. I think I shocked a lot of people."
Like his parents, Joyce and Joseph.
"We never have tried to put any limitations on Davonte and back everything he wants to do," Joseph said. "At the same time, this was football. I think we were really afraid."
His friends and future teammates were much more blunt. Especially when he told Rojas he wanted to play running back.
"I thought originally we'd put him on the defensive line – let him clog up the middle or something, but he insisted he wanted to be a running back," Rojas said. "I said, ‘All right, if this is what you want to do, we'll do it.'"
Said Pollard: "Everyone thought I was crazy. They'd always tell me: ‘Boy, are you losing your mind? I would never come out here and play football and be blind. That's like running the ball with your eyes closed."
Video by Jason Alpert/Edited by Ryan Escobar