SAN ANTONIO - Walk through the halls of the Churchill High School athletic building and locker room and it’s clear: Josh Pollard’s presence can be felt everywhere.
Pollard passed away in August, weeks before the start of his senior football season. Amid the tragedy, the Chargers have had their most successful season in two decades.
They are a win away from a regional championship, but if you talk to some of Pollard’s closest teammates, you realize this team’s success was planned months ago.
“Before Josh’s death we had come together as a senior class, and we had just banded together as brothers and more of a family type setting that we established here,” said senior Thomas Sharrick.
“Our group has had something special ever since middle school,” said senior Grant Gomez. “We didn’t think anything like that would happen, but our season has been something special to us.”
Pollard’s sudden death shocked the Churchill community. An autopsy showed he passed away in his sleep due to complications from an enlarged heart.
Head coach Ron Harris said the support and tributes from the community, parents, other schools and coaches from the North East Independent School District has been overwhelming.
But Harris credits the senior class for keeping the team together throughout the wave of emotion that followed Pollard’s death.
“For about a week straight all of us hung out together,” said senior Tyler Ellis. “Every night, doing something with each other and cherishing the moments you get to spend with one another.”
“To watch these kids go through what they have gone through is a pretty amazing testament to them, their ability at a young age to handle this circumstance and situation and be able to move on, but still honor their friend and keep his memory alive,” Harris said.
Honoring Josh and keeping his memory alive has been paramount to Churchill’s success. Harris said the seniors chose different ways to honor Pollard throughout the season.
They carry Pollard’s No.12 jersey on the field for every game. He has been an honorary captain all season, and the team wears his number as a decal on one side of their helmets.
But inside that same locker room where Josh spent so much time is a promise. Before every practice, each player touches a plaque with the initials “J-P.”
Below the plaque is Josh’s favorite Bible verse. It reads:
“Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified. Do not be discouraged. For the Lord your God will be with you where ever you go.” Joshua 1:9.
With that in mind, the team decided the best way to honor Pollard was to not play for him, but to play like him. Thus came the acronym “LLJP,” which stands for “Live Like Josh Pollard.”
“He’d always be the first one to finish,” said senior Thomas Sandoval. “Always smiling even when we were going through workouts. He was always joking around when I didn’t have the breath to laugh.”
“He’s a huge part of this team,” said senior Jordon Billups. “Through the adversity we just think of him, think what he would want us to do, we just try to do that in all endeavors we face.”
Harris said Pollard was a selfless leader, an exceptional teammate and one of the most athletic players on the team.
He was a hard worker who was set to start on defense this year, but Harris jokingly adds Josh was not a morning person.
“He’d come rolling in here right at the time or even a little bit late with a severe case of bed head, he would laugh and joke about it and start his day,” Harris said. “You hear all the accolades, but every one of them were true about Josh.”
Among the accolades are unexplainable moments throughout the season when Josh’s presence was felt on the field.
Harris and Josh’s friends all reference a fumble recovery near the goal line in a game against Roosevelt that preserved a win. The team added Pollard to the game’s final stat sheet.
“We gave Josh a stat for the forced fumble, he has two tackles and two forced fumbles. He did good,” Sandoval said.
“The first thing I did was just look at the number 12 on Josh’s jersey, and I thought that was all him,” Billups said.
Another instance came in Churchill’s first playoff game against Vista Ridge, a tipped pass that landed in the arms of Chargers wide receiver Johnny Alva.
“I was kind of laughing and I turned, and I know that’s him, he’s got our back,” Gomez said.
The third instance is a game-winning interception against Brennan that allowed the Chargers to move onto the third round of the playoffs. The ball was batted in the air by Sharrick and intercepted by Gomez.
“There was just this feeling to the team in that moment, that was Josh having a hand in the game and I couldn’t have the words to explain it,” Sharrick said.
Ellis said a parent told him that particular interception took place with 1:20 left in the game. “Seeing that number, that’s 12, that’s Josh for you,” Ellis said.
“Sometimes you just wonder if there isn’t something more at work,” Harris said.
As Churchill prepares to take on Steele in the region final Saturday at the Alamodome, Harris and the players have no doubt Josh will be by their side.
A No.12 who acts as a true 12th man. A teammate, brother on the field and off it. A friend who enjoyed life, his family and being around others.
“We both had F-150 (trucks) and we always like to talk about them,” Billups said. “I saw the craziest one, just looked around to try and tell Josh and I just realized…you know.”
“He wants us to be here, there’s a reason for that, and I just think that everything that happens to our team is for a reason, and Josh is with us in spirit. He’s guiding us through this run,” Ellis said.
Through the wins and losses, adversity and good times, it all goes back to the promise made inside the Churchill locker room to “Live Like Josh Pollard."
“We banded together and preserved through it. It’s been special to each of us, it’s been a huge driving force for us,” Sharrick said.
“Have fun, be relaxed live in the moment, work hard, do all those things like Josh did," Harris said. "Don’t think we have to perform for him, let’s just perform like him.”
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