Tommy Polley did it all. Regarded as one of the best high school athletes in the country out of Dunbar High School in Baltimore, Maryland, Polley won multiple state championships in both football and basketball. Six total, in fact. He was also Baltimore’s back-to-back defensive player of the year for football in his junior and senior seasons. He topped it all off with being the state of Maryland’s Player of the Year his senior season and a top-60 basketball prospect.
So where does a top two-sport prep star choose to play college ball? Well, when your role model is Derrick Brooks and you are uber-talented at 6’5 and 230 lbs, Florida State, of course.
Polley enrolled in 1996 and redshirted, walking on to the basketball team. Polley’s basketball career at FSU never took off as he left the program after his freshman season to focus on football, feeling it gave him the best chance to go pro. He got his first start in football against Georgia Tech halfway through the season in 1998 and never looked back. He broke out in 1999, leading FSU to an undefeated season and its second national title in the Sugar Bowl against the Virginia Tech Hokies. He was named first-team all-ACC, finishing with a team-leading 76 tackles, ten for a loss, along with three sacks, two fumble recoveries, three pass breakups, and three blocked kicks. The last of those blocked kicks cemented Polley’s legacy at FSU. He squeezed through the Virginia Tech line and gave Beamer Ball a taste of its own medicine, blocking a punt that fellow ’Nole Jeff Chaney scooped ’n scored, giving FSU a 14-0 lead in the first quarter of a game FSU would later run away with.
Unfortunately, Polley would sustain a serious knee injury early in the second half of that title game while attempting to tackle Hokie quarterback Michael Vick, tearing his ACL and partially tearing his MCL. While the injury delayed Polley’s plans to enter the NFL, it did not stop him.
In his senior season Polley again racked up tackles and accolades. He was a finalist for the ACC’s Brian Piccolo Award for his injury comeback - Polley started every game in 2000 - and a semi-finalist for the Butkus Award, awarded to the nation’s top linebacker. He also added third-team Football News All-American and another first-team all-ACC nod to his resume. Most importantly, he was also a team captain and again led Florida State back to the national title game, this time against the Oklahoma Sooners. Florida State ultimately lost, 13-2, but Polley left it all on the field, with eleven tackles.
Polley finished his FSU career from 1997 to 2000 with 289 tackles, 170 of them solo, 19 tackles for loss, seven sacks, four forced fumbles, two interceptions, 14 pass breakups, and all those blocked kicks. FSU went an unbelievable 45-5 during that span.
Polley was drafted with the 42nd overall pick in the second round of the 2001 NFL draft by the then St. Louis Rams. He finished his rookie season with 86 total tackles and a spot on the All-Rookie team. Polley played a total of six seasons in the NFL, finishing his career with the Baltimore Ravens and New Orleans Saints. He narrowly missed out on a Super Bowl championship as well, losing 17-20 in 2002 to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXVI while with the Rams. He retired from the league in 2007 after suffering a shoulder injury, hanging up his cleats with 386 total career tackles, over 300 of those solo, with six sacks and five interceptions. Polley coaches high school football now, and is a Hall of Fame member of both Dunbar High School and the state of Maryland.