FRISCO — Tony Pollard was just 4 years old when his mother asked him a big question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

“Momma, I want to go to the NFL,” little Tony told his mother, Torria Douglas-Pollard.

“I said, ‘Sit down somewhere,'” Douglas-Pollard recalled telling her youngest son, with a laugh.

Fast forward to the present, and Tony Pollard is not only in the NFL, shunning the family barbecue business, but he’s projected to play an important role for the Cowboys. Pollard assumed the role of starting running back when Ezekiel Elliott’s holdout stretched throughout training camp, and he impressed while playing with the first-team offense in the preseason.

Whenever Elliott returns, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said he would like to use both running backs because of the dynamics they can add to the offense.

Pollard doesn’t look at his newfound fame as a dream come true. It’s just part of the fight he’s always been fighting, from a lack of scholarship offers out of high school, to limited opportunities at Memphis, to draft experts questioning his skills. Everything has been a fight — one he’s quietly won at almost every level.

“Surprised? Not really,” Tony Pollard said. “I have high expectations for myself. I have a lot of confidence in myself, not like I’m bragging. I believe in myself, and I feel like I have the talent to do it whenever I put my mind to it.”

This is the most boastful thing Pollard will say when it comes to his rise from a rookie backup to Elliott’s replacement. Pollard has a mild-mannered personality, much like his father, Tarrance Pollard, but he plays with a fury, similar to his outgoing mother.

Ask the parents where Pollard get his personality, and they both say, ‘Dad.’ So where does he get his athleticism? “Same place he gets his personality from,” the dad says.

The fight in Pollard started when he was trying to prove to his mom that he could make it in the NFL. But there were obstacles.

He broke his ankle in his junior year at Melrose High School in Memphis, Tenn., which limited his playing time and the number of colleges seeking his skills. He was a running back but decided to play wide receiver for the first time in his senior season to increase his visibility. In that season, he scored 20 touchdowns and had 1,200 receiving yards. He was named to the All-District team in 16-AAA in Memphis. It still didn’t increase the number of colleges after him.

Memphis recruited him because he was the local kid, and they believed in him, but Pollard wasn’t convinced.

“I told him, ‘Tony, this is the place who wants you, just stay here,'” his mother said.

Pollard elected to attend Memphis, but even then he wasn’t “The Man.” In three seasons, he didn’t have more than 78 carries in a season and combined for 1,010 receiving and rushing yards in his redshirt junior season. He played behind running back Darrell Henderson, who had 1,000-yard seasons in 2017 and 2018. Still, Pollard was convinced he would get drafted by an NFL team, so he elected to skip his senior season.

For Pollard it wasn’t a gamble, just something he knew was necessary.

“He’s been a fighter his whole life,” Tarrance Pollard said. “He’s never been the chosen one. He had to fight for everything pretty much he got.”

There were questions about Pollard’s ability to run between the tackles because NFL personnel hadn’t seen much of it. There also were questions as to whether he could become a 15- to 20-carry per-game back.

Again, it seemed as if there was always someone questioning Pollard. Colleges hadn’t seen him play enough, so Division I offers were few. Now moving on to the NFL, the fact that he had so few carries and receptions was bringing him down. So when it came time for a draft party, Pollard didn’t want it.

“I wanted to go over the top, and he said, ‘No Momma, I don’t want none of that ’cause I don’t want to get embarrassed in case I don’t get drafted,'” his mother said. “So we didn’t do any media, nothing.”

“We had the family,” his father said.

Despite the nerves, Pollard’s visit with the Cowboys gave him hope he would get drafted, but he wasn’t sure. Why would the Cowboys draft him? They had Elliott, considered one of the top running backs in the NFL. And even if he was drafted by the Cowboys, he was going to be No. 3 or No. 4 on the depth chart.

But after the visit, he had a feeling something good was going to happen. And on the second day of the draft, the Cowboys selected him in the fourth round at 128 overall.

“We were crying,” his mother said.

Pollard’s expectations were high once he got to the Cowboys because he wanted to be prepared. He was taught by his parents to always study and get ready for the job at hand. His father owns a restaurant in the White Haven section of Memphis called Pollard’s Bar-B-Que. It started as a mobile catering business but soon morphed into something bigger: a full-scale restaurant that will mark its 23rd year in October.

Tony Pollard said that blue-collar work ethic results in success. He takes that same approach on the football field.

“Just growing up, a kid from Memphis, not a lot is expected out of me,” he said. “Who would have thought I’d be here now?”

At the start of training camp, Pollard was running behind Darius Jackson.

Now Jackson is off the team, released as the Cowboys reduced the roster from 90 to 53. It doesn’t matter when Elliott returns from his holdout; the man with the starting gig today is prepared to keep it until he returns.

“I, 100%, believe in myself,” Pollard said. “I feel like if that’s the case, and if that’s what happens, I’ll be ready for it.

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