Troy Pollard flashed outstanding quickness and running ability as a freshman at Illinois in 2007. He played in the first three games and averaged 6.4 yards in 23 rushes before tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee. His surgery was successful, and he was healthy enough to play last fall. But the results weren't what he hoped.
"I was healthy enough to play, but I wasn't able to play up to my potential. I didn't have all the quickness I do now."
Pollard scored his first career touchdown against Eastern Illinois last fall, but that was the last Illini fans saw of him all year due to other leg problems.
"My leg was already bothering me a little bit, and I kind of aggravated it a little more. I had hurt my ankle in camp."
The product of Andrew Jackson High School in Jacksonville, Florida, was almost forgotten after that as freshmen Jason Ford and Mikel Leshoure began to assert themselves at the running back position. But neither possesses Pollard's quickness and maneuverability. He was nearly impossible to corral this spring until an aggravation of his surgically repaired knee set him back again.
"Yeah, I felt pretty good. I could make all the cuts and got my speed back. And then my injury set me back a little. I thought it was a repeat of my knee surgery because I felt something pop. It's doing pretty good now."
A healthy Pollard can be a welcome contrast to the power running of Ford and Leshoure. He is excited about the potential of new coordinator Mike Schultz' offense.
"We got a new coordinator, so he brought new plays. I think we're doing pretty well on offense. We're still making mistakes, but it's a new offense and we've got to get used to it and get that chemistry going."
Troy likes how the running backs are being used.
"The running backs are running more routes. We're lining up in the slot now. We've showed them we can catch the ball too. I enjoy it because I can show off my hands."
The key to the offense is getting the ball into the hands of the playmakers. Using the running backs in pass formations helps the cause.
"Yeah, you never know who to key on. The running backs, receivers, the senior quarterback, even the o-line is scary."
The 5'-8", 185 pounder knows he lacks the physicality to be an every down back in the Big 10. He wants his playing time, but he understands the value of sharing the load with Ford, Leshoure, and senior Daniel Dufrene.
"As long as we win, that's all that matters."
Pollard was featured in one segment of the Big Ten Network's "The Journey," the story of Illinois' 2008 season from Camp Rantoul to the end of the season. He and teammates Whitney Mercilus and Leshoure were shown in a dance class.
"The Journey was pretty exciting. I enjoyed that dance class, and I appreciated the Journey coming out so I could show my dance skills. You look like a fool sometimes. It was kind of awkward at first, but once you get the hang of it, you'll be all right."
Troy Pollard sees a different attitude on the team this year than last.
"We're on a mission now. We're trying to get back to the Rose Bowl. We tried to get to a bowl game last year, but we came up short. We're working harder than ever to make it to a bowl game."