Literally seconds into my phone conversation with Junípero Serra high school football All-American C.J. Pollard, his car, and in turn the interview, broke down and grinded to a complete halt. To my surprise, C.J. called me back half an hour later, insisting that we finish what we had (barely) started.
Over the course of my ensuing conversation with the humble, USC-bound defensive back, I learned that this was a very small but telling example of how Pollard refuses to be discouraged by any bump in the road.
Perhaps the greatest proof of this lies in the path Pollard has taken to becoming the blue chip recruit he is today. Most All-Americans who earn scholarships to prestigious Division I football programs like USC do so after playing four years of varsity football at their respective high schools.
Pollard, on the other hand, played on Junípero Serra’s freshman team and then on the JV squad during his sophomore year.
Despite being cut from Serra’s varsity roster for two straight seasons, Pollard never gave up on his goal of earning a college football scholarship. The summer leading into his junior season, Pollard pushed himself harder than ever to ensure that his dream became a reality.
“I was so thirsty for an offer,” recalls Pollard of that summer. “I put on 15 pounds of muscle. I started running track, dieting, taking heavy protein shakes. And I was just thirsty to learn. I wanted to get better every day. Work ethic can take you over the top.”
Pollard’s hard work helped him earn his first scholarship offer in March from the University of Utah; from there, offers came pouring in from several of the nation’s top Division I programs, including the school Pollard wanted an offer from most: USC.
Pollard’s father, Marvin, was a standout defensive back at USC from 1988-91. And Pollard is ecstatic about the chance not only to follow in his father’s footsteps, but also to do so in his native Los Angeles.
“This is my support system in L.A.,” says Pollard. “I have my family, coaches, trainer, fan base, my friends all here. ... I didn’t want to leave behind what I had started.”
Though Pollard is still a year away from donning the Trojan uniform, he already knows quite a bit about what it’s like to play for a school with a rich football tradition. Pollard is the 92nd Serra Cavalier to earn high school All-American honors in football, and the third on the team this year (defensive end Oluwole Betiku and safety Brandon Burton).
“It definitely makes me work harder,” says Pollard of Serra’s storied football history. “You want to bring your game to the next level and be a part of that. You want to bring something to the table.”
And Pollard believes that his experience playing for a school that regularly draws large crowds and even plays the occasional televised game will help him at the next level.
“USC is going to be way, way bigger obviously [in terms of the size of crowds and television audiences], but playing for Serra has prepared me to have the mindset that all eyes are on you,” explains Pollard.
“It’s fun when all eyes are on you, and you have the opportunity to make big plays. I love to seize the moment; do what you’re taught. [I remind myself] you don’t have to crack under pressure. Play your game. Be relaxed.”
Pollard is likewise inspired by another great Serra tradition: its Catholic teachings.
“We actually study scriptures the Thursday before every game, and apply it to our motto, or mindset, for that week,” says Pollard. The scripture passage that has had the most profound impact on him? “Philippians 4:13, which says ‘All things are possible through Christ, who strengthens me.’
“God does not put me here [on Earth] to fail. I can do anything through him. Being an All-American, winning games, being able to play at USC: none of that is possible without God. I give him the thanks and glorify his name. It’s huge when you feel like, before and after games, your whole team is protected by God and his plan. I put my faith and trust in God, always.”
Pollard draws immense inspiration not only from his faith, but also from his sister, Brandi, who has autism. “She’s my motivation,” says Pollard of Brandi. “She’s high functioning, but I want to do everything I can to help her have a better situation.”
Pollard is very aware that achieving his dream of earning an NFL contract could go a long way toward supporting Brandi’s future. The road toward making an NFL roster is a tremendously difficult one that will inevitably present Pollard with several challenges over the next four years. But if there’s anyone who can navigate a bump in the road, it’s Marvin’s son, and Brandi’s brother.