“Coach Pollard, where you at?”
Before South Carolina ended practice Monday, Will Muschamp brought his newest “staff” member to the middle of the Gamecock huddle.
“Let’s go,” Muschamp said, motioning to a smiling 6-foot-1, 235-pound figure who bounced up from the back of the group, “break us down.”
Kiel Pollard won’t play football again. Not for USC. Not for anyone. The senior tight end announced his career was over last week, detailing on Instagram how an MRI revealed a spinal condition that makes it unsafe for further participation.
But that doesn’t mean he’s done helping South Carolina’s program. Instead of making receptions on his own this season, Pollard will be close by, encouraging others to do it.
“Last scrimmage,” said junior tight end Kyle Markway, “he was on the sideline and every time I caught a ball, I could hear him over there cheering.
“His voice, it brings a lot of energy to this team. It’s something we need on the sideline.”
Cheerleading, however, won’t be his only role with the Gamecocks. “Coach Pollard” is exactly that, a student-assistant for the offense and beyond.
“Coach Pollard’s doing real well,” said offensive coordinator Bryan McClendon. “I definitely reached out to him. So he came and saw me and we’re getting together a schedule for how exactly he’s going to help and everything else. And his first question was, ‘Coach, I gotta be up here that late?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, if you want to coach, right?’
“But he’s a kid that hard work has never been an issue for him. Sharp, bright, really good spirit. So he’s going to make a heckuva coach. We’re just going to make sure he do everything we can do to utilize him while we have him.”
Pollard, who projected to be a starting tight end, will graduate in December. The Moultrie, Georgia, native had long considered coaching for his post-playing career.
“He’s always talked about going back to Georgia and being a high school coach,” Markway said, “being a coach somewhere. He loves football. And he wants to be around it the rest of his life.”
Pollard finished with 17 catches for 203 yards and two touchdowns as a Gamecock. He won numerous team honors, including the special team’s “Leadership Award” and “Unselfish Teammate” in 2018.
“He’s a guy that loves football,” said senior offensive lineman Donell Stanley. “He loves being physical and he always bring up people’s day when they’re down. You always see him with a smile on his face, that big old smile Kiel’s got. So he always brightens up the room.”
Senior quarterback Jake Bentley said he called Pollard as soon as he learned about last week’s news.
“I let him know he’s part of this team just as much as he would be if he was still playing,” Bentley said. “I said, ‘We need you on the sideline, looking, paying attention, helping the tight ends, helping me.’
“He’s going to be locked in. And he’s really going to be Coach Kiel because we’re going to need him.”