Tuesday, December 10, 2013

SPORTS STORY >> Ex Badger going for third title as a Tiger

Leader sports editor

When Cabot takes the field at War Memorial Stadium at 7 p.m. Friday in the class 7A state championship game, there will be more local flavor than just the players in the red home uniforms. Across the way, on the Bentonville sideline, will be one of best running backs to come out of Beebe High School.

David Pollard was a star for the Badgers in the late 80s while playing for Barry Lunney Sr. He had scholarship offers from smaller in-state schools and invitations to walk-on and Division I universities.

He played college ball for a year at Ouachita Baptist and three years at UCA. He is now in his 17th year of working for Lunney, starting in 1996 as an assistant coach at RamseyJunior High in Fort Smith. He is the associate head coach and running backs’ coach for the Bentonville Tigers, and has been on Lunney’s high-school staff for three of his six state championships.

Pollard, now 42 years old, has been with Lunney, officially, for his entire coaching career, and has designs on someday becoming a head coach, but if not for a minor delay concerning an opening at Jacksonville in 1996, his career path could have been very different.

As a senior at UCA, Pollard did his practice teaching at Jacksonville for then basketball coach Jerry Wilson. After graduation, he took a job at JHS as a health teacher and volunteered in athletics wherever he could, but he wanted to be a coach.

“There was actually an opportunity there at Jacksonville that I wanted to apply for, but it was one of those situations where I had to wait and see,” said Pollard. “There was also an opportunity at Fort Smith. I contacted coach Lunney and ended up being offered the job as an assistant on the junior high staff. The Jacksonville job would’ve been a high-school position if I could have waited on it, but I had an offer, so I took it.”

After one year as an assistant at Ramsey, he became the head coach. After five years of leading Ramsey, he became one of Lunney’s assistants at Fort Smith Southside, and coached defense for 15 years before being moved to the offensive side of the ball this season.

In that time, he coached every aspect of defense, even though he considered himself an offensive player in high school and college.

“I played running back and linebacker, but I always considered myself an offensive guy,” Pollard said. “Coach Lunney put me on defense when I first moved to the high-school position, and I did that for 15 years. After a while, it’s just what you do. I’ve learned a lot about defense over the years.”

Ironically, the sudden change this season, which Pollard admits caught him off guard, has not only made him a more knowledgeable offensive coach, but also a better defensive coach.

“At first I wasn’t too sure about it, but then I started thinking I’d like to do offense,” Pollard said. “And it’s made me a more well-rounded coach. The more I learned about offense made me better at defense.”

Pollard has learned to trust the coach he’s been loyal to for 16 years. He trusted Lunney when he put him in charge of one of the junior-high programs.

He trusted him when he brought him to the high-school staff. He trusted him when the move was made to Bentonville, and most recently, he trusted Lunney when the mentor told the apprentice he was ready to be a head coach. Pollard applied for the opening at Rogers recently, and was one of the five finalists who interviewed for the job. That opportunity didn’t pan out, but being a head coach is in his plans.

One thing Pollard has learned, though, is to not force it.

“It’s going to have to be the right place at the right time,” Pollard said. “I’ve seen guys that wanted to be a head coach jump in and take a job, and it wasn’t the right job. There’s going to be a lot more that goes into the decision other than just being a head coach. Coach Lunney told me I was ready, and I appreciate that and I trust him. But I want it to be the right situation.”

Jerry Wilson remembers Pollard well, and the two occasionally touch base. The Jacksonville athletic director believed 18 years ago that Pollard would be successful.

“David was a guy that came early and stayed late,”Wilson said. “He was a good person. He worked well with kids, had good relationships with the staff. I rarely turned my classes over to practice teachers right away, but I trusted David. Some people have a gift for this job and he’s got it.”

Pollard looked into the Jacksonville head job when it came open the last time, but several factors kept him from applying. A return to central Arkansas, however, is not out of the question, but it will have to accommodate the new family.

Pollard got family life started later in life than most. He and wife Martine welcomed their first child Denise on Jan. 2, 2010. Son Nelson was born just 14 weeks ago, on Aug. 29.

A lengthy long-distance relationship finally became a marriage once Martine found a job in northwest Arkansas. The Pulaski Robinson graduate relocated, and now has a job she enjoys very much.

“One of the things that will have to happen for me to take a job that requires a move, is that there will have to be an opportunity for Martine as well,” Pollard said.

“She has a good job at Mercy Hospital that she loves and she’s good at. So everything will have to be just right. I’m going to be patient. Coach Lunney used to always say that good things come to good people, and I believe that. The right opportunity will come along when it’s time for it to happen.”