Samuel D. Logan
The Valdosta Daily Times
“Respect yourself and people around you will respect you. Be yourself. You don’t have to please everyone,” said Valdosta State linebacker Chris Pope.
These words come from one of the best linebackers in Blazer history, according to the stats. Starting in 41 of 42 career games, Pope has been a force for the Blazer defense, recording 343 total tackles to date, making him second on the all-time list for tackles in a career. Pope accomplished this task on Saturday against UNA, recording 6 tackles; enough to push him past VSU legend and Atlanta Falcons’ Ring of Honor member Jessie Tuggle. Tuggle previously held the number two spot with 340 tackles in his career at VSU. Pope is just 25 tackles away from passing his mentor Larry Dean for the number one spot on the list. Dean is an ex-Blazer who plays in the NFL for the Minnesota Vikings.
Chris Pope is a 22-year-old middle linebacker who has been playing football since he entered middle school. Born on Feb. 21, 1991, to Miriam Pope, he was raised in Jackson, until he entered college at Valdosta State in fall 2009.
Pope admitted to not becoming serious about football until he was in the seventh grade, when he was unable to finish the season due to injury. He bounced back in eighth grade, becoming more involved.
In high school, Pope was a member of the Jackson High School basketball team, in addition to a varsity football starter, beginning in his tenth-grade year. The team won a region title that same season and won another during Pope’s senior year in 2008.
Pope has always been a hawk on the defensive side of the ball, playing cornerback and safety in high school. An interesting fact about Pope is that he did not play a single snap at the linebacker position until he came to Valdosta State.
“A coach saw something in me. He always talked about my potential and was looking for a spot to get me on the field. He tried me out one day at linebacker and I did all right and I’ve played ever since,” said Pope.
The decision of college football over basketball came easy for Pope.
“Football chose me over basketball. I was looking for a way out of Jackson and football was that chance,” said Pope.
At VSU, Pope studies psychology as his major and is a senior. He enrolled as a Blazer in 2009 and became a red shirt freshman, not allowing him to play in the football games that year. Pope revealed that being a red shirt freshman helped him get his grades off to a good start, grow a little more and get better prepared in the locker room.
In 2010, Pope began his journey to become the player he is today. Pope was named a defensive starter at the middle linebacker position and racked up 61 tackles.
“Being a freshman, you feel like you have to earn your respect. All season, I was trying to earn my stripes. I listened to the older guys and learned a lot; We won a conference championship that year,” said Pope.
As a young player on the Blazer defense, Pope naturally looked to older people at his position to learn from and found a true mentor in fellow Blazer at the time, Larry Dean.
“The guy that really mentored me was Larry Dean. He showed me the ropes and I practiced with him every week. He was my roommate on the away games and I got to see how he prepared for the games,” said Pope. “I saw how he worked. I wanted to win ball games so I tried to follow in his footsteps. He ran from sideline to sideline and put in time in the film room. Larry was the guy you had to be like because he did everything the right way. He took me under his wings I appreciated him teaching me a lot.”
During Pope’s sophomore year, he became a leader on and off the field, and his hard work did not go unnoticed by coaches and teammates. Pope led the Blazers with 92 tackles with 9 for loss, and was second in the GSC. Pope recorded two interceptions that season and also received first team All-GSC honors.
In his junior season, Pope helped lead the Blazers to a Division II National Championship game with his 127 tackles for the year, the third most in a single season for the Blazers.
“Sophomore year (2011) I wasn’t very vocal but I led by example; I worked hard in the weight room and on the field. I even led the team in tackles. I see that as the year I was falling into my role for the future,” said Pope. “I was voted captain in my junior year (2012). I took on the responsibility and we were able to win a National Championship.”
While Pope is an outstanding football player, he enjoys his free time when he finds it.
“I'm a low-key guy. I stay to myself for the most part. I do like to attend other sporting events though. Basketball, soccer, even volleyball. I enjoy supporting other local athletes,” said Pope. “I spend a lot of time doing football things during the day. I study film in my free time. I don’t have much off time but when I do, I try to relax.”
He spends time in the VSU recreation center playing basketball at times, just for fun. When he goes back home to Jackson, he enjoys spending time with his family.
“I’m from the country so when I go back home, I go fishing with my brothers. We also like to just go out to the lake and just have fun,” said Pope.
His favorite color is what he calls the “typical blue." He enjoys hot wings and seafood as his favorite foods and likes each of the seven "Fast and the Furious" films.
His favorite football team is the Atlanta Falcons and fancies posthumous NFL safety Sean Taylor who played college football at the University of Miami and ended his NFL career with the Washington Redskins before being shot at his home.
“I looked up to him a lot. Playing safety in high school I used to watch his tapes and say ‘I want to be like him.' I still watch a lot of his film to this day.”
Pope’s teammates have described him as dedicated and quiet, but one thing is for certain, nothing is quiet about Pope’s presence on the football field.
“My teammates would probably call me quiet until it’s game time. I am friendly though. Off the field and on the field they would say I’m two different people. I speak to people off the field and I am very courteous. On the field, business is business then. I take no nonsense,” added Pope.
Pope shared a factor behind his motivation on the field, and mentioned that most people would be shocked to learn the fact.
“I have a 5-year-old son. A lot of people don’t know about that, but he is probably my biggest motivation. A lot of times I feel like I can’t let myself down because I cannot let him down. People thought it was a bad thing coming out of high school and going to college with a kid, but knowing that one day I will have to provide for him, I continue to do what I can each day now,” said Pope.
Pope calls himself driven and humble.
“I’m driven. It doesn’t take much for me to find a bright spot in my day. I always work hard,” said Pope. “I’ve had a lot in my life taken away so everything I'm given, I’m appreciative. I try to stay humble all the time because what God gives, he can take away.”
After the football season ends, Pope plans to graduate from Valdosta State with his psychology degree. Pope also has a desire to play football in the National Football League.
“I’m putting my future in God’s hand. I’m close to graduating so I would like to finish my degree. I would love to play football at the next level but I will continue to take care of my business now, and hope things open up,” said Pope.
With three more regular season games left in his last season as a Blazer, Pope will continue to be a defensive leader and help the Blazer’s hope at repeating as National Champs.
Watch Pope and the rest of the Blazer team take on the Delta State Statesmen, 5 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 2, in Cleveland, Miss.