BRADENTON -- Two years ago, Ja Juan Pollock was a football player without a team.
On Nov. 30 in Fort Pierce, he was a football player without peer.
Pollock is a senior wide receiver at Manatee, a key piece in an offense averaging more than 50 points a game heading into Friday's Class 7A state semifinal at Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas.
There was a time, however, when Pollock wasn't playing football at all, much less contributing to a team ranked No. 1 in the nation in three different polls.
Pollock used to be at Bradenton Prep, which later became known as Prep Academy, the troubled school that disbanded its football team in 2010.
A sophomore at the time, Pollock remembers a meeting with Walt Williams, Prep Academy's coach and Pollock's uncle.
"He talked to us first -- me, his son (Jared) and a couple of our friends," Pollock said, "and told us what was going to happen. We were real depressed. Then he brought us all together and said, 'You all need to stay calm.'"
Jared Williams finished out his senior season at Southeast after the Florida High School Athletic Association ruled him eligible for the playoffs. Pollock went to Manatee before Prep Academy shut its doors.
"I was living right here," Pollock said, "so I figured I'd take that chance."
He pulled in 35 catches last year during Manatee's run to the Class 7A state championship and has been explosive this year during the playoffs: Seven of Pollock's 13 postseason catches have resulted in touchdowns, and he scored four times last week during Manatee's 51-0 win over Fort Pierce Central in the Region 3 championship game.
"He's really played well the last half of the season. The first half, we didn't get it to him a whole lot," Manatee coach Joe Kinnan said. "He's stepped up and played real well."
Pollock has 34 catches and 11 touchdowns this year. But after grabbing seven receptions Week
2 against Riverview, Pollock didn't have more than three in a game until his five-catch, two-touchdown performance against Lakewood Ranch in Manatee's regular-season finale.
The lack of targets initially got into his head, Pollock said.
"You kind of get a little selfish when (the ball's) not being thrown your way," he said. "You think, 'Why aren't they throwing me the ball?'"
He found solace in his mother and his cousin Jeff Charlton, a former receiver at Manatee.
"They said, 'You've got stay humble and go as hard as you can,'" Pollock said. "That was the main thing -- just stay humble."
Along with Marquel Hines and Brodrick Yancy, Pollock has given quarterback Cord Sandberg myriad options. And it was Pollock who pulled in the touchdown pass in Sandberg's final throw at Hawkins Stadium during this year's regional semifinal win over Venice.
"He's a track kid," Kinnan said, "with great speed."
And he's a player who has taken advantage of his second chance.
"Yeah, I came a long way," Pollock said, "went from an unknown school to a known school."