Troy Pollard received playing time and showed great promise for Illinois the first three games of his college career back in 2007. In fact, he was splitting time with Rashard Mendenhall before suffering a season ending knee injury. The resulting ACL surgery repaired the damage, but it still took more than two years before Pollard felt like his old self.
This spring, Pollard was as quick as he's ever been. He darted and weaved his way through traffic as if he'd never had surgery. It's been a long time coming, although it now seems like time flies.
"It's been a long ride, but I appreciate all my time at Illinois. It's gone fast, but I've been around for a long time. I'm an old guy around here now."
The Floridian is motivated for his final season, and he's demonstrating leadership only a mature individual can provide.
"It makes me feel I still have something to prove to the young guys. I'm still running around with them. They respect me. I have no problem showing them what to do, show them the ropes. They know if they need anything, they can come to me."
Pollard was also flashing power this spring, something unexpected from someone his height and weight.
"Oh yeah, it's Coach (Ron) Zook. In the weight room, I got bigger and stronger. I ran over some people. Once you get that one play, you know you can keep doing it. Coach (Paul) Petrino's always preaching to get tough. When I get tough, I realize I can keep doing it every play. It's just repetition.
"I was moving the ball pretty good. I was finally feeling healthy. I got comfortable with the offense and started making plays."
Of course, adversity reared its ugly head again. A mild concussion prevented the 5'-8", 190 pounder from playing in the Spring Game.
"I laid out the last week of spring. The first week or two after that, I was still feeling some of the symptoms. I'm feeling better now though."
Pollard is part of a running back corps that includes senior starter Jason Ford, squadman Ean Days plus promising freshmen Donovonn Young and Josh Ferguson. Being a team player, he enjoys the competition.
"We've got a lot of depth. The freshmen are coming in and looking good. They're pushing us, making us be on top of our game. But that's good. Competition makes everybody's running better.
"Everybody brings something to the table. We just make everybody better, and the best man wins the starting position."
Pollard has seen Illini teams come and go. He feels the current squad did as much or more to build team chemistry over the summer as any previous team since his freshman year.
"It was good. We came together as a team. We did everything together as a team, we got bigger, stronger and faster. It's amazing some of the numbers the guys are putting up on the power clean."
Exciting is a word some are beginning to use when describing the Illini offense this year. Pollard realizes the potential is there; now they must bring it to fruition on the field.
"Yeah, that's what we want to do. We've got the playmakers, we've just got to make sure we keep working hard. Do the work so we can make plays and win games on Saturday. We've got the receivers, running backs and tight ends, we've just got to keep working at it.
"We're gonna do pretty good. We just have to keep working hard. If we do that, the sky is the limit."
Pollard wants to enjoy every second remaining in his Illini career. He is needed at running back, and any current success helps put the recent past out of his mind. Whether he gets frequent carries, he will be a big part of the glue that holds the Illini team together in 2011. He has the maturity to handle it.