The opportunity to be the boy's soccer coach at Pontotoc was unexpected, but Cullen Pollard is thankful and excited for what lies ahead.
The Warriors have been one of the top 4A soccer programs in North Mississippi recently. PHS has posted a 33-12-2 record over the past two seasons. The Warriors have not lost a division game in two seasons and are 23-3 in division play over the past three years. Tyler Moore stepped away earlier this year as head coach, and Pollard, a Pontotoc resident who has been a girls soccer assistant coach at Lafayette for the previous five years, jumped at the chance to get in the mix for the job. The Pontotoc City School District announced his hiring in early April, while school was still shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"It was sort of a dream to stay at home and run my own program," Pollard said. "I am lucky and blessed that (Pontotoc City Schools Athletic Director) coach Josh Dowdy trusted me to run this program. It just kind of fell in my lap, and I am very happy about it."
Pollard was a member of two Tupelo High School state championship soccer teams in 1999 and 2001. He competed for the Tupelo Futbol Club as well as the Clinton Metro travel team, and he excelled in the Olympic Development Program (ODP). He went on to play collegiate soccer at Itawamba Community College.
Before moving into the education field, Pollard worked for the University of Mississippi Athletic Foundation for a decade.
"I thought about what I could do to better myself and other people," Pollard said. "I had always thought about teaching and coaching. My grandmother was a teacher. My grand dad was a teacher. My wife taught; her mom taught. Something I have always been good at is communication. I really enjoy teaching."
He got his first coaching and teaching opportunity at Lafayette, a good girls program that had an extremely successful run during his tenure as an assistant. The Lady Commodores had an overall record of 90-24, made three appearances in the Class 5A state championship game, and captured state titles in 2019 and 2020.
"I was blessed to step into a program that was already really, really solid and be able to help them out," Pollard said. "Melinda Scruggs is one of the best coaches in the state, and so I got lucky to be able to learn from her. She runs a really good, well-managed program. She is very patient, but she demands a lot. The biggest thing that will stick with me is just having high expectations for everything you do. That's what builds successful teams."
Pontotoc had a big senior class last season that was backbone behind much of the recent success. So the Warriors will be younger and more inexperienced this winter. Normally summer practice would include some games against other schools, but due to COVID-19 only intrasquad practice has been permitted by the Mississippi High School Activities Association. Pollard plans to hold tryouts soon after the resumption of school, but the veterans that have attended workouts this summer have impressed him.
"The returners that we have had during the summer program were really solid," Pollard said. "There is a lot of really good young talent that I am excited about. I just don't know that we will know what we will look like until we start practicing as a team and playing some games. It is going to be exciting to get to that point."