Pollock a pleasant surprise for Longhorns | AspenTimes.com

Pollock a pleasant surprise for Longhorns

Jon Maletz

Basalt senior running back Ben Pollock runs for a first down recently against Grand Valley. Pollock's Longhorns square off with Aspen today. (Paul Conrad/The Aspen Times)

It’s Friday and the Basalt Longhorns football team is playing at home.With blankets tucked under their arms, fans crowd through the chain-link fence gates, scurrying to the grandstands to stake their claim to the best seats in the house.Students congregate with friends along the yellow ropes surrounding the field. Others come to hear the middle school band, to watch the dance team perform, to cheer on their Longhorns.But no matter why and from how far they have come, almost every fan will walk away with one name forever committed to memory. Under the glare of the Friday night lights, Ben Pollock – all of 5-foot-8 and 140 pounds – has perfected the art of bringing an entire crowd to its feet.Don’t blink as the Longhorns break the huddle and amble to the line of scrimmage. Don’t blink as quarterback Tucker Hinchcliffe takes the snap and turns to look over his shoulder, ball outstretched. Pollock stands in the backfield. He waits, calmly breathing in, then out.He takes the handoff, relying on his speed to break toward the edge. Pollock, who claims basketball is his strongest sport, lets his point guard’s vision take over. If linebackers are overpursuing, he doesn’t hesitate to cut back.He explodes down the field, befuddling tacklers as he speeds past yard markers like road signs on Highway 82.Cue the breakaway run down the sidelines. Cue the mechanical bullhorn. “I thrive on the crowd, it adds fuel to the fire,” Pollock said. “I am a little quiet, but I try to get the guys pumped up during games.”Pollock – Basalt’s Renaissance Man – never fails to deliver, whether on offense or in the defensive secondary. He even kicks extra points and field goals. He single-handedly kept the Longhorns in Sept. 9’s game against Grand Valley with two first-half touchdown runs of 33 and 20 yards. He collected 142 yards on the ground and 32 receiving; he was successful on two extra-point attempts.One week later, Pollock rushed for 144 and accounted for 16 of Basalt’s 28 points in a 28-7 win against Cedaredge. He racked up 225 all-purpose yards and hit a 35-yard field goal. In Oct. 7’s homecoming game loss to Hotchkiss, Pollock was spectacular, averaging nearly 14 yards per carry en route to a career-high 261. He reeled off three runs longer than 50 yards and had matching 66-yard touchdown scampers. Pollock found the end-zone three times and recorded nine tackles on defense. If fans could have voted for homecoming king after the game, Pollock would’ve won in a landslide.And the best part about Pollock’s season? It was completely unexpected.”I was having dinner with my dad the other night and he asked me, ‘Do you think you’d do this well? Because, to tell you the truth, I didn’t,'” Pollock said. “I didn’t know what to expect. I thought I’d be a receiver and catch a few passes.”Pollock traded in his shin guards for shoulder pads after a successful two-year stint as a forward on the Basalt soccer team. Pollock helped the Longhorns amass 26 wins and two playoff berths. In his two seasons, Basalt lost only five games. “It was hard to find out he wasn’t coming back, because he was a big contributor in our playoff run last year,” Basalt soccer coach Erik Streff said. “I want to support him, as well. I can’t fault him if football is something he loves to do.”It came down to the night before two-a-days were set to begin; it came down to the days Pollock spent tossing the ball around with J.T. Donovan following summer workouts.”The [football] kids would come into the weight room and tell me to come outside with them and run some routes,” said Pollock, who plans to pursue both basketball and football at Division III Nebraska Wesleyan or Colorado College. “I loved it.”The thought of returning to football had always been in the back of his head. Despite the prospects of leading the soccer team on another playoff run in 2005 – and three years since a regrettable freshman season on the football scout team – Pollock decided to give football one more go. Head Coach Forrest Grosh knew about Pollock’s work ethic and athletic prowess but said he wasn’t sure how Pollock would perform once he put on the pads. Pollock was slated as the second-string tailback behind Hinchcliffe to open the season, but he got his chance when Hinchcliffe went down with an injury in the first game at Meeker. Pollock responded, rushing for 117 yards in the 14-13 loss to the Cowboys. Grosh caught a glimpse of things to come in the first half.”He was flushed to the left on the handoff but didn’t give up,” Grosh said. “He worked his way all the way back across the field and wound up going for a 60-yard run. We started realizing that we had a special player on our hands.”Because of Pollock’s sterling opening performance, the roster-shuffling was officially under way. Hinchcliffe was moved to quarterback one week later; Pollock has not vacated the Longhorns’ starting backfield since. He has rushed for 100 or more yards in five of six games and has totaled 812 yards on the ground. He is averaging 135 yards per contest. But true to his personality, Pollock is willing to trade all of the accolades – and all of the yards – for one more win. Despite Pollock’s efforts, the Longhorns, losers of three straight, are a mediocre 2-4.He would trade it all for a victory in his final showdown with rival Aspen at 1 p.m. today. The home team has won every contest since 2002. Aspen’s only conference win in 2003 came in a 24-8 victory against the Longhorns. A win would be Basalt’s first on the road this season. The Longhorns will need to overcome injuries to both No. 1 and No. 2 quarterbacks Hinchcliffe and Donovan. Senior Jimmy Corrigan is expected to start. Basalt’s offense may rest squarely on Pollock’s small shoulders. But if recent history is any indication, he will deliver another encore.”We need to put things together at the end of games,” Pollock said. “I’d give up any of my yards if we could’ve finished some of those games. I know Aspen isn’t going to roll. If we get up, we need to keep going and never look back.”Jon Maletz’s e-mail address is jmaletz@aspentimes.com