Coming from Garden City CC in Garden City, Kansas, Pope had verbally committed to play football for head coach Dennis Franchione and the University of Alabama. However, after sanctions levied against the Tide included a two-year bowl ban, Pope decided to wait a little while before signing on the dotted line.
"A lot of people were talking to me, trying to make me not come to Alabama," Pope said. "I just wanted to take time to relax and see what I wanted to do. I took some other visits to see how it was, but the visits I went on didn't compare to my visit here."
Pope took visits to Michigan State and Arkansas, before canceling visits to Florida and Miami instead to sign with Alabama.
Pope will play middle linebacker for Alabama. He, along with redshirt freshman Freddie Roach, will help fill the void left behind by Saleem Rasheed, who departed early for the NFL.
In helping Garden City reach the junior college national championship game last season, Pope registered 121 tackles, 17 sacks, and one interception. He runs very well and had some thoughts of playing strong safety at the Division 1a level, but will stay at linebacker.
"I was hoping to come in and play safety, but linebacker fits me and that's where I'll play," Pope said.
Pope arrived in Tuscaloosa for the start of the summer to participate in voluntary summer weight training programs, and to take some summer classes. "I wanted to get up here and get around the players and let them get a feel of me before all the other ones come in," Pope said. "They'll get to know me better. I wanted to work out with them and try to gain a relationship with the players."
When new players arrive on campus, there is always a feeling-out process. And it usually takes several weeks before they're fully accepted. But Pope quickly became a part of the Tide team. "I've established good relationships with Gerald Dixon, Waine Bacon, Freddie Roach, and others," Pope said. "Brooks Daniels was a real good host when I came on my visit, and also Jason Rawls."
A key reason that contributed to Pope coming to Alabama was the fact that his uncle, Kenith Pope, is the Assistant Head Coach and handles wide receivers for the Crimson Tide. Derrick and Kenith have maintained a close relationship since Derrick was a boy.
"Me and my uncle have that kind of bond," Pope said. "I made the right decision for me and for my family (to come to Alabama).
"We've had a strong relationship since I was a little kid. He would always say whatever school he was at would be the one I was going to go to. When he was at Mississippi State, he'd be telling me to come to Mississippi State--it was the same way when he was with TCU. And now he's at Alabama--and I'm at Alabama."
Given his talent and credentials, many Tide fans are predicting that Pope will play early and often for the 2002 squad. But as for his goals with Alabama, Pope just wants to fit in with the team.
"There are people who have been here for two years, and I don't want to come in and act like I'm running the show," Pope said "I just want to come in and be a team player."