Georgia’s David Pollack defied skeptics to become a Hall of Fame defensive end

Georgia senior David Pollack (47) greets his teammates for the last time at Sanford Stadium during introductions at the Georgia Tech game Saturday, Nov. 27, 2004.

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Georgia senior David Pollack (47) greets his teammates for the last time at Sanford Stadium during introductions at the Georgia Tech game Saturday, Nov. 27, 2004.

ATHENS – Former Georgia assistant coach Jon Fabris still remembers the offseason meeting before spring practice in 2002 when David Pollack’s name came up.

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Fabris, who had come from the Cleveland Browns a year earlier to join Mark Richt’s first Georgia staff as defensive ends coach, had lost three seniors to graduation and junior Charles Grant to the NFL draft off the 2001 team.

“Fabris needs some help,” Richt announced.

The name of “Davey” Pollack was floated. The young fullback from Snellville had played some defensive tackle the previous season as an emergency stopgap because of injuries. Fabris knew of Pollack and liked his attitude.

“I’ll take him,” Fabris said quickly.

But then another coach dissented.

“I won’t mention who it was, because all of us have been wrong at times on our evaluations, but a voice chimes in and says, ‘Well, you can take him if you want to, but I can promise you, he’s not an SEC player.’”

Twenty years later, Fabris still cracks up at that memory. He did again Tuesday morning as Pollack was a couple of thousand miles away in Las Vegas preparing to be officially enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame.

Now better known as a featured analyst for ESPN’s “College Football GameDay” show, Pollack actually is a member for the 2020 Hall of Fame class. But we all know how 2020 went.

So, the 63rd annual National Football Foundation awards dinner that traditionally has taken place at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York is being held instead Tuesday night at ARIA Resort and Casino in Las Vegas. Both Pollack’s 2020 class and the 2021 class will be recognized. The event is being shown on ESPN3, and it will be well after midnight on the East Coast before it concludes.

That’s just as well for Pollack. While he spends his fall days in front of television cameras, he has never cared for individual attention. Even, so, there has been a lot of it.

Even though he doesn’t have his own page in the Georgia football media guide like Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker, Pollack ended up with more national awards than the Bulldogs’ greatest tailback in history. When his college career was over, Pollack had won the Lombardi, Chuck Bednarik, Ronnie Lott and Ted Hendricks awards. He also was named the SEC defensive player of the year in 2002 and 2004 and became the only other Georgia player not named Herschel to earn first-team All-American honors three times.

You can now add Hall of Famer to that list.

“I don’t love the personal attention and personal awards,” Pollack said in a news conference in Las Vegas. “But it gives me the opportunity to bring my mama and my daddy here to tell them how much they personally mean to me and a chance to tell a lot of people, ‘This doesn’t happen without you.’”

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Jon Fabris (L) coached David Pollack (R) in college. Now Pollack is coaching Fabris' son Michael in youth league football, and Fabtis is one of his assistants. (Family photo)

Credit: Jon Fabris

Jon Fabris (L) coached David Pollack (R) in college. Now Pollack is coaching Fabris' son Michael in youth league football, and Fabtis is one of his assistants. (Family photo)

Credit: Jon Fabris

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Jon Fabris (L) coached David Pollack (R) in college. Now Pollack is coaching Fabris' son Michael in youth league football, and Fabtis is one of his assistants. (Family photo)

Credit: Jon Fabris

Credit: Jon Fabris

Fabris is one of the people Pollack routinely mentions. Unequivocally, Fabris wanted to give Pollack a look at defensive end, and he’s oh so glad he did.

It wasn’t immediately apparent that Pollack would become a Hall of Famer at the position. Fabris pointed out that Pollack found himself going against future tackles Jon Stinchcomb and George Foster, future NFL first and second rounders, during spring practice. And Fabris said Pollack struggled with some of the intricacies of the position, particularly using his hands as a weapon.

It was a humbling experience, to say the least.

“But he didn’t back down,” Fabris remembered. “And the 100 days between spring practice and fall camp, he ran those drills on his own and worked on those things I only had 15 days to work with him on. He was still green when we got to camp, but I could tell right away he was the best guy I’ve got.”

Fabris said one of the first things that caught his notice was that Pollack would run to the ball after every play no matter where it ended up. Sometimes that might be 20 or 30 yards down the field; sometimes it might all the way at the other end.

This didn’t sit well with some of Pollack’s teammates.

“I was in earshot one day when I heard two of the older kids say, ‘Hey, Pollack, tone it down. You’re making the rest of us look bad. He stopped and looked them right in the eye and said, ‘Well, that’s your problem because that’s how I’m going to play.’ Nobody knew I’d heard that, but I just turned my back and smiled.”

Fabris was smiling even more after Georgia’s first game of the season. Pollack started at “buck end” in the Bulldogs’ home opener against Clemson and was playing lights out. Fabris said Pollack started cramping midway through the third quarter, and trainer Ron Courson took him into the locker room for an IV.

“They’re in there a long time, and Clemson started to come back,” Fabris said. “I’m not saying Pollack was the only reason, but we needed him out there, bad. I’ve never been so happy to see him come running back on the sideline.”

Pollack finished with eight tackles and 1.5 sacks in a 31-28 Georgia victory.

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UGA's David Pollack strips the ball from South Carolina quarterback Corey Jenkins in 2002 in the end zone and scores a memorable touchdown.

UGA's David Pollack strips the ball from South Carolina quarterback Corey Jenkins in 2002 in the end zone and scores a memorable touchdown.

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UGA's David Pollack strips the ball from South Carolina quarterback Corey Jenkins in 2002 in the end zone and scores a memorable touchdown.

The next week, Georgia traveled to South Carolina. That’s where Pollack made his most famous play, a snatch-away, interception for a touchdown right off the hand of quarterback Corey Jenkins in the Gamecocks’ end zone. It was the Bulldogs’ only touchdown in a 13-7 win. Pollack finished with 14 tackles and added another sack to his stack.

But it’s the Tuesday before that game that always comes first to Fabris’ mind.

“It’s what we called ‘Bloody Tuesday’ and we’re running inside drill and Pollack goes down in a heap, yelling and holding his leg,” Fabris said. “My heart sank; I just knew he’d blown his knee. This is no exaggeration: I bowed my head and I prayed. I said, ‘Lord, if you’ll spare him, I’ll never put him in another inside drill as long as I’m at Georgia. Then I see Pollack get up, hobbling and gimping around, hollering and shaking his leg. But he was all right. And not only did we never run another inside drill with him, he never scrimmaged again at Georgia. Which he hated, of course.”

Fabris also was thankful and surprised when Pollack returned for his senior season. His career could not have ended more perfectly, according to Fabris. Wisconsin was driving deep in Georgia territory in the final seconds of the Outback Bowl in Tampa. Taking a cue from the stance of a Badgers tackle, Pollack guessed pass and rushed the quarterback.

“He could’ve killed the quarterback, but being the smart player he was, Pollack didn’t; he just took the ball away from him,” Fabris said, laughing against at the memory. “I bet I threw my hat 50 feet in the air. We got one or two first downs and the game was over, and Pollack was running around the field giving the fans high fives. And I sat there watching him, and I thanked God, again, that he had the senior year that he had and didn’t get hurt.”

Pollack left UGA as the Bulldogs’ all-time leader in sacks (36), tackles for loss (58.5) and blocked punts (3).

Seems like defensive end was the right call after all.

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