Stratford standout Polley finds home at Baylor
Hawkins Polley started playing tackle football at seven years old. There was a weight limit in his little league, so he wasn’t permitted to carry or catch the ball.
“I had to have my hand on the ground,” Polley said. “I was over the weight limit.”
Polley played the offensive and defensive lines until middle school, when he was moved to linebacker.
“Freshman year was my first year catching passes,” Polley said. “I’ve always had strong hands since I was little, but I’ve learned my strengths and weaknesses and gotten better at tracking the ball through trial and error.”
Polley, now a 6-foot-4, 238-pound tight end who just wrapped up his junior season at Stratford, is something of a late bloomer. Pass-catching is now considered one of his elite skills. It’s a primary reason why he has evolved into a three-star recruit.
“My first varsity sport was basketball as a freshman, and that year I thought I’d be going to college for basketball,” Polley said. “That was my main focus until after my sophomore year of football. I’d never worked on football outside of football season until after my sophomore year. Before that, I was just playing and running the routes on the play sheet.”
Seemingly nothing has gone as planned for Polley, in a good way. He will be playing football in college, not basketball, because he has a God-given gift to catch the ball.
Polley verbally committed to Baylor on Monday afternoon. The Bears, who initially contacted Polley in January of this year, were his first offer.
“The coaching staff really made me and my family feel welcome,” Polley said. “From the first time we were there, they made it feel like we were a part of their family and like we’d all been friends for 10 years. It was the place I was most comfortable. They were constantly reaching out, asking how my family was doing and how my season was going.
“Before I committed, I went through every DI football team. I asked myself, if that school offered me, would I choose them over Baylor. And I wouldn’t. I would not choose any college at the DI level over Baylor.”
Polley caught 39 balls for 426 yards and five touchdowns this season in helping lead Stratford to a 10-2 record, its best season since 2015. As a tight end, he’s still able to “knock the crap out of people and not get into trouble,” which drew him to football as a kid, but he is more than just a skilled physical specimen.
“The way I see the defense helps me a lot,” Polley said. “I’m able to see open spaces and get there. Having the raw talent of size, speed, and hands really helps, but I study film so that the game slows down for me once I’m actually on the field.”
Polley talked more with VYPE.
VYPE: What plans do the Baylor coaches have for you?
POLLEY: The first visit I took there, we had a film session. They took plays from my high school film and compared it to plays they run, showing the similarities and what I’d be doing. Some of it is going one-on-one from the slot and winning a jump ball or moving me around to get matchups I can win, whether it’s on a safety or a linebacker. A lot of manipulating the defense.
VYPE: After the success you had as a sophomore (437 yards, nine touchdowns), how did you see opposing defenses adjust the way they played you this year. And what was that adjustment like for you to deal with?
POLLEY: They would move someone over the top of me, maybe three yards off the line, and then have a safety about 7-10 yards off the line manned up against me. The biggest takeaway for me is it got my other receivers open. Luke Rives would be one on one with his 4.4 speed. Triston (Williams) or Jake (Brand) would have one-on-one coverage and it’d allow our offense to move the ball down the field. Sure, I’d like to get the ball more, but if the team’s winning, I’m winning.
VYPE: What was the key to the success you all had this year and what was the difference than years past?
POLLEY: The team chemistry was a lot better. This group was so tight and had so much fun together. With being so close, we were able to pick each other up in tough moments and help keep each other’s heads up.
VYPE: What motivates and inspires you?
POLLEY: What motivates me is if that seven-year-old kid was talking to me now and asking if we made it to play in college or in the NFL, I don’t want to tell him, ‘We could have, but we didn’t work hard enough.’ I don’t want to say that. I want to give everything I can. I want to know I did everything in my ability to be everything I could be.