USC Gamecocks Football

USC senior tight end’s football career cut short because of health concern

Kiel Pollard was projected as a starter for South Carolina football at tight end in 2019.

On Friday, he announced on Instagram that his football career is over. He broke a bone in his neck that would have kept him out 6-8 weeks, but then an MRI revealed a spinal condition that ultimately made it unsafe to continue playing.

“Last week I did something that every football player knows not to do, I ducked my head while blocking,” Pollard wrote. “As I waited on the exam table I thought everything was straight. To my surprise, after the MRI was completed and what felt like the longest 2 hours of my life, I was informed that I would be out for 4-6 weeks with a broken neck. I was perfectly fine with that.

“This week that changed when I found out that last Tuesday would be my last time playing football. Not that I’m not able, but that it’s not safe for me to do so.”

Will Muschamp said Monday that Pollard had been dealing with a shoulder stinger. USC confirmed the news Friday afternoon.

“Kiel suffered a small fracture in his neck last week, which was to have sidelined him for 4-6 weeks,” Muschamp said in a statement. “However, during an MRI, the doctors discovered a cyst on his spinal cord, which appears to have been there since he was a child. The severity of the situation and the possible long-term consequences from that medical condition forced him to give up his playing career.

“Our hearts go out to Kiel and family. He is a great representative of our program and our university. He is on schedule to graduate in December and will not doubt have a successful career in the coaching profession.”

The senior from south Georgia had worked his way up in South Carolina’s football program, playing special teams his first two seasons and finally breaking through as an offensive player last season. He had 15 catches (fifth on the team) and 181 yards (fourth on the team).

He’s spoken candidly about how hard it was to wait for more meaningful playing time, and he was visibly beaming after catching a touchdown in the team’s opening game.

Pollard came into this season with high hopes ready to take on the role of a starter.

“I want to show people that I’m a great leader, I’m a great teammate,” Pollard said. “I feel like I’m a great person. And I just want to bring winning to this state and winning a national championship and SEC championship.”

His teammate and roommate Bryan Edwards likewise expected big things.

“He’s always had the talent,” Edwards said. “It’s just always been kind of having the opportunity and just going out there and doing it.

“But he’s a mature kid, he’s smart, he does everything right, he comes to work every day. And he’s going to play a major role in this offense.”

Pollard came to USC as one of the more talked about recruits in Muschamp’s first class. He’d decommitted from Arkansas, and his coach said Georgia and Auburn had come calling just before signing day.

A prolific-if-undersized receiver in high school, he was converted to tight end and had to go through a long learning process at that position.

Losing him means the Gamecocks have more questions at his position. Projected starter Kyle Markway is still there, but he is more a blocker as compared to the receiver/H-back role Pollard played.

USC recently lost tight end Evan Hinson for six to eight weeks because of an irregular heartbeat. The team is waiting on the NCAA to decide whether transfer Nick Muse will be eligible this season. Beyond those three and Markway, the only scholarship players are Will Register — who is a bigger tight end in the mold of Markway — and two freshmen, KeShawn Toney and Traevon Kenion. (Kenion has been missing at points during practices for an undisclosed reason.)

South Carolina had also moved offensive lineman Chandler Farrell to tight end.

Gamecocks tight ends coach Bobby Bentley has to figure out what’s next, but before the injury, he reflected on what it had been like watching Pollard’s South Carolina journey.

“I know his family,” Bentley said. “I know his high school coaches. I know where he comes from. So it’s very exciting to see his development and where he has come from.”

Despite the news, Pollard closed his Instagram post on a note that was forward looking. He declared he was more than a football player and asked fans not to feel sorry for him.

“Football has been good to me,” Pollard said. “Football has provided me with a great education in which I will be graduating in December this year! I am smart enough to know God doesn’t give anyone a gift that he doesn’t plan on using! So with that being said one chapter ends and another begins!”