Pollard catching on with Patriots

Ex-Colt tight end has a lot in reserve

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Baxter Holmes
Globe Correspondent / August 2, 2008

FOXBOROUGH - During the fierce battles between the Patriots and Colts in recent years, tight end Marcus Pollard, a former favorite target of Peyton Manning, never pictured himself on the other side.

It's akin to transferring from Ohio State to Michigan or leaving the Red Sox for the Yankees.

"I never thought it. If you could've said to me six, eight, seven, five years ago, I would've said probably not," Pollard said.

Yet here he is, a member of the Patriots after signing in the offseason. He'll spend his 14th season with the Super Bowl contenders, but the fact that he's played this long may be hard for some to believe since Pollard never played college football.

Well, not traditional college football.

"I'm probably the most famous flag football player in America," he said.

Despite the longstanding theory that San Diego tight end Antonio Gates was the flagship non-college player to succeed in the NFL, it was really Pollard, who played flag football - and basketball - at Bradley University. The school doesn't have a football team.

Pollard is fine with Gates getting the recognition.

"That doesn't bother me. It's not about me beating on my chest, 'Hey, I was the first guy,' " he said.

Gates's background is more publicized because of his prolific start. In his first five seasons, Gates has near identical career numbers (340 catches, 4,362 yards, and 43 touchdowns) to Pollard in 13 seasons (349, 4,280, and 40).

Following Pollard's senior year at Bradley, athletic director Ron Ferguson called the Colts and asked if they could give him a look.

The NFL was not Pollard's goal, the NBA was.

"That was my inspiration going to college. I wanted to play basketball. That was my first love, but I was always better at football," Pollard said. "Football came a lot easier. Basketball I had to work at, but I enjoyed playing it a lot more."

Pollard played power forward at Bradley, which had previously produced NBA players Hersey Hawkins and Anthony Parker. In two years, Pollard averaged 7.3 points and five rebounds.

After 10 years with the Colts, and recent stints with Detroit and Seattle, Pollard was signed by the Patriots April 23. The phone call that initiated the talks came while Pollard was doing yard work at home. The phone rang and caller ID showed an unlisted number. When he answered, he was tentative and the caller asked if he caught Pollard at a bad time.

The call nearly ended there, but Pollard asked who it was and found out it was Bill Belichick.

"It's like if you get a call from the president of the United States," Pollard said.

("Well, that's very flattering," Belichick said.)

Pollard said he'd never been called by a head coach in that situation before.

"I don't know if it ever happens to any guy or if it happens all the time here, but for me, it was huge," Pollard said.

Belichick tries to call any player the team is interested in, whether they sign or not. Part of that is to build a relationship and the other part is to answer any of the player's questions, Belichick said.

At 36, Pollard is the oldest player on the Patriots' roster and only Rodney Harrison (15) has played more seasons.

"I don't think there's anything we're doing he hasn't done before," Belichick said. "It's just about adjusting to a different terminology."

Pollard is known as a receiving tight end, a reputation he accepts but tries to change. He will likely be the third tight end behind Benjamin Watson and David Thomas this season.

"I don't run as fast as Ben and David," said Pollard, who is often one of the last to leave the practice fields. "Those guys are lightning fast, but I still run pretty well and I still feel I can block. So I like to think of myself as a complete tight end. That's something I'm trying to stress to David and Ben and young guys as well: Strive to be a complete guy, not just guys looking at you as a pass-catching tight end."

He said he's not just here to be a fill-in player. There is still a desire to play.

"There's still a lot left in me," Pollard said. "I still feel that competitiveness you need to have. I still just enjoy getting up in the mornings and having something to do rather than being a couch potato."

When he leaves his career behind, he wants to become a high school football coach and when it's time to leave, Marcus Pollard will know.

"When I'm done, it will be done for me," he said. "It won't be, 'Well, can I go one more year?' When it's gone, it'll be gone and I know it'll be gone."

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