Wake Forest defeated Memphis 37-34 Saturday at the Birmingham Bowl.
Jason Munz, Southern Miss Sports Writer
Memphis junior running back/return specialist Tony Pollard announced Friday that he is declaring for the NFL Draft, becoming the second Tigers player to do so following this season.
The Memphis native made the announcement on Twitter, ending his tenure with the Tigers after recording his NCAA record-tying seventh career kickoff return touchdown in the Birmingham Bowl.
“I would like to thank The University of Memphis first and foremost for a great four years of football,” Pollard’s statement began. “This program has allowed me to progress and accomplish so much during that time.”
Pollard’s announcement comes just days before the Jan. 14 deadline for underclassmen to declare for the NFL Draft.
Running back Darrell Henderson declared for the NFL Draft in December after this year’s AAC championship game.
While Henderson’s decision was expected after becoming Memphis’ first unanimous All-American, Pollard’s announcement was a surprise considering he had somewhat of a down year after winning AAC Special Teams Player of the Year his first two seasons.
Yet Pollard leaves Memphis with a decorated career and went out in style in his final game.
In addition to his record-setting kickoff return score, the Melrose High School alum ran for a career-high 109 yards and set a Birmingham Bowl record with 318 all-purpose yards in the Tigers’ 37-34 loss to Wake Forest.
The 318 yards is also second-highest in Memphis history for a single game.
Pollard also graduated with his degree in December. He finished this season with 1,677 all-purpose yards and was the Tigers’ third-leading rusher (552 yards) as well as their second-leading receiver (39 receptions for 458 yards).
In 2017, he led the nation in kickoff return touchdowns (four) and kick return yards per game (40.0). He was named an All-American by several outlets, including the Football Writers Association of America and Walter Camp.
As a freshman, Pollard was named a FWAA Freshman All-American after returning two kickoffs for touchdowns and registering 1,068 kickoff return yards.
Pollard’s first kickoff return touchdown against Temple in 2016 was the first at Memphis since 1996 and ended what is believed to be the longest drought in FBS history.
With Henderson and Pollard now leaving for the draft, the Tigers will be thin at running back next season with Patrick Taylor as the lone returner with significant carries. After Taylor, the next highest rusher is freshman Kenny Gainwell, who had 91 rushing yards in four games before redshirting.