City, Dawgs wouldn't be same without Pollack's mayoral presence
Updated: Saturday October 2, 2004 12:39PM
Defensive end David Pollack could become Georgia's first three-time All-America pick since Herschel Walker.
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
There are some college stars so bright that people stop and gaze as they simply stroll through campus. Then there's Georgia's two-time All-America David Pollack, who acts less the part of a celebrity player than chummy mayor as he steers his scooter around Athens, Ga.
The local FedEx man, who once discussed religion with the devoutly Christian Pollack over lunch, gives him high-fives. Secretaries joke with him as he barrels through the athletic department on the way to meetings or practice. Area tots attach themselves to his sturdy legs as if he were Santa Claus, and none more fervently than little Anya Richt, the head coach's 7-year-old daughter, who dreams about marrying her daddy's defensive end one day.
Pollack is so much a part of what Georgia football is right now, it's hard to imagine what this southern college town would be like without him. And last spring, Pollack had a hard time imagining what he would be like without Athens.
Although he had been flying high on pro scouts' radar for nearly two years to that point, he decided to play out his last year of eligibility at Georgia, where he could spend another year with his best friend and quarterback, David Greene, as well as longtime sweetheart and fellow Georgia student Lindsey Hopkins, not to mention the countless teammates, classmates and random citizens whom he counts as friends.
"It was tough, because I had a chance to make a lot of money for family members who needed my help," he said Monday. "But I wanted one more year of having fun, being a kid, and putting on the red and black again."
Unlike so many talented players who see college ball as a kind of thankless internship program en route to the pros, Pollack is embracing campus life even as he strives for the good life. Every time he is on the field, skipping and grinning and beating his chest between plays, it is clear the guy is having a blast. And combined with a work ethic that finds him on the practice field hours after the whistle has blown, that enthusiasm has led to some staggering statistics -- 23 1/2 sacks, 40 1/2 tackles for loss and 231 total tackles in his first three seasons -- and uncommon respect from teammates.
"I didn't know who David Pollack was when I got here, but it didn't take long to learn that he was somebody I could look up to, somebody who could push me and help myself improve in every aspect," sophomore defensive end Quentin Moses told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution this summer. "A lot of players would be afraid to admit that they look up to one of their teammates like that. But I've spent three years with him, and I'm just very impressed with the type of person he is."
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When relentless double-teams and nagging injuries caused Pollack's production to dip in his junior season after winning SEC Player of the Year honors as a sophomore, it just made those players around him better. New standouts such as safety Thomas Davis and linebacker Odell Thurman, both back this year, displayed an energy and ballhawkishness in 2003 that Pollack himself has preached through his playing. The Georgia defense finished fourth in the nation in yards allowed (276.9) and carried a sometimes anemic offense to the SEC championship game, where the Bulldogs lost, for the second time that season, to LSU.
This weekend, the Dawgs (3-0) face the Tigers (3-1) again, this time on Pollack's turf, and you can bet he's ready for it. He is still dealing with injuries -- the latest being a fractured left thumb that had him wearing a thin brace in practice Monday -- but neither Pollack nor LSU is expecting it to diminish his effectiveness.
"[Pollack] is a real playmaker, and he always seems to come up with a big play at the right time for them," Tigers head coach Nick Saban said.
Georgia's defense is proving once again to be the class of the team, holding opponents to 260.3 yards per game (12th in the NCAA), while a Pollack-led pass rush has been key in limiting teams to just 125.7 yards through the air (fourth in the NCAA).
In the offseason, this unit had a goal of improving its quickness; for his part, Pollack cleaned out the refrigerator in his and Greene's shared kitchen, restocked it with lean meats and veggies, and whittled 42 pounds from what he felt was a "chunky" 6-foot-3, 280-plus-pound frame. Now back up to a muscular 266, he's posted team-high numbers for tackles for loss (3 1/2 for 21 yards), sacks (two for 18 yards) and quarterback hurries (seven) -- stats that satisfy him little.
"It's average," said Pollack, who has a chance to join Herschel Walker as Georgia's only three-time All-America selection. "Not phenomenal by any means."
On Saturday at Sanford Stadium, he'll be shooting for phenomenal, because while any battle between the hedges is fun, besting last year's Sugar Bowl winner there would be even better.
"It'd be OK if went .500 and we gave it everything we got," Pollack said. "But I want the national championship."
In Athens and beyond, Dawg fans can relate.
Sports Illustrated writer-reporter Kelley King covers college football for the magazine and is a regular contributor to SI.com.