By Bob Condotta
Special to NFLDraftScout.com/The Sports Xchange
SEATTLE -- Chris Polk's dream took root immediately.
The first time he touched the ball in an organized football game at age 6, Polk broke loose for a touchdown.
"From that moment on, my dream was to play professionally," Polk said. "I love football so much, I didn't play any other sport since age 6. I never tried basketball, never tried anything else but just football. I've been in love with football since that first carry."
Polk has broken loose with regularity ever since, through his high school days at Redlands (Calif.) East Valley High and the University of Washington, which he left as the second-leading rusher in school history.
Now the question is where football where carry him next.
He's regarded as one of the top handful of running backs available in the NFL Draft later this month, projected by some going as high as the second round. He's currently ranked fifth at the position by NFLDraftScout.com. (Positional Series: Evaluating the Running Backs)
Polk says the conjecture of where and when he'll be drafted doesn't really interest him.
"It's all speculation," he said just under two weeks before the draft. "You never know what this general manger or anyone thinks. I don't pay attention to it. I've been criticized and talked about my whole career and that is what's made me the person I am today. So I don't really let that worry me."
Indeed, in his early years at the University of Washington, the questions were about Polk's durability after he suffered a few injuries, including a dislocated shoulder that sidelined him for the rest of the season two games into his freshman year in 2008.
It didn't take long for Polk to put that tag to rest, carrying the ball at least 226 times each of his three full seasons at UW, finishing with more rushing attempts than anyone in the history of a school traditionally known for strong running games.
En route to rushing for at least 1,000 yards three consecutive seasons -- the only other player in UW history to do that was Napoleon Kaufman, a first-round pick of the Raiders in 1995 -- Polk became known for his tough running style, gaining innumerable yards after contact for a team slowly rebuilding under Steve Sarkisian from the 0-12 disaster of 2008.
Polk says he enjoys doing the dirty work.
"My favorite running plays are anything up the middle," Polk said. "As long as it's up the middle, I'm fine, whether it's inside zone or power or counter or anything up the middle."
At UW, Polk also showed an ability to make the big run, such as the 2010 Washington State game when he rushed for 284 yards on 29 carries, the second-highest yardage total in school history.
Some draft analysts, though, have questioned Polk's speed, whispers that increased after he arrived at the Senior Bowl weighing 224 pounds and called by some observers as "sluggish."
But Polk then slimmed down to 216 and turned in a 4.57-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine in February and an even quicker 4.49 electronically timed 40 at Washington's pro day in March.
"I wanted to lose some weight and show them (NFL teams) that I really do care about my body and I really do take what I do seriously," he said.
He thinks he's shown that his speed should be a non-issue.
"I'm a bigger back moving at a good rate," he said. "I'm a game-speed type of person -- I'm not a track athlete."
And Polk can point to all kinds of long runs as proof of his ability to turn the big play -- he had touchdown runs of 46 and 61 yards in the first-half alone at Stanford.
Polk also lists on his resume a solid ability to catch the ball out of the backfield -- in fact, he was initially used at Washington as a receiver as a true freshman in 2008 before being turned into a running back permanently.
Polk caught 79 passes in his Washington career and helped the Huskies win games last season against Cal and Arizona with late touchdown receptions -- his 70-yarder against the Bears, in which he caught the ball 30 yards or so downfield, was Washington's longest pass play of 2011.
"I've always been very comfortable catching the ball," he said.
Polk was eligible for the draft after the 2010 season but decided to return. Having already been in college four years due to the 2008 season and injury, however, it was a pretty clear choice for Polk to leave after 2011.
"I just feel like I'm as good as all the other running backs in the draft," he said. "They are all great, phenomenal running backs and I feel like I fit right in with them. But at the end of the day, I just want to get drafted -- it doesn't matter what round. Then I can say that I'm a professional football player, a professional athlete, and that must makes the dream for me. Whatever team drafts me won't be sorry."