A native of Galveston, Texas, Pope is one of several Oklahoma and Texas players brought in by the previous staff. At the time Derrick was rated one of the top junior-college linebackers in the nation, but he decided to sign with Alabama over offers from numerous other schools mainly because his uncle was a member of the previous staff.
But after arriving in Tuscaloosa last summer, it didn't take him long to become a member of the Crimson Tide family. "There ain't no place like it," Pope said of playing at Bryant-Denny Stadium. "Being around the type fans that we have was something real new to me.
"Being around a group of people that just care about the team so much is special."
For the second year in a row NCAA sanctions will prevent the Tide from participating in any post-season games. And by specific exemption Pope and Bama's other rising seniors could transfer to any out-of-conference school without sitting out a season. Last year, proving their commitment to their teammates, not a single player left. And so far that dynamic is still holding true.
Pope was one of the best athletes and most instinctive players on last year's team, and there is no question that the previous staff would have loved to take him with them to College Station. But though Dennis Franchione obviously didn't believe his own frequent preaching on the subject, the concepts of "team" and "adopted family" mean something to Derrick.
"This past year I grew real close to all my teammates," Pope explained. "I've got a lot of real good relationships. I wouldn't want to let any of them down by leaving."
Pope is especially good friends with Ahmad Childress. He and the junior defensive tackle played together at Garden City Community College, and the two want to finish their college careers at Alabama. "Me and Ahmad talk every day," Pope related. "I don't feel like leaving my friends. I like the friends that I have here."
Despite facing the reality of no bowl game at the end of the year, Pope and his teammates confounded expectations this past year by achieving the best record in the SEC Western Division. "I think the season went real well," Pope said. "We had a great year. Going 10-3 like that was a real good season for a team dealing with probation."
Together with the other Tide defenders, Pope helped build one of the best stop units in the nation. Alabama finished 2002 ranked third in total defense nationally and first in the SEC.
Several key seniors have graduated, but Pope likes the talent coming back. "Even though we lost Jarret Johnson, Kindal Moorehead and Kenny King--those are some great players--I think that we can have a great defense next year. With Anthony Bryant, Antwan Odom, Ahmad Childress and Nautyn (McKay-Loescher), our defensive linemen will be good.
"All of those guys played a lot and made a lot of plays. They just weren't always starting. They'll be starting now and can do even better."
Franchione and his staff may be gone, but Alabama is still Alabama.
Pope explained, "We have the talent to be every bit as good. We may be missing a coach, but this new coach that's coming in is 10-2 right now and going to the Rose Bowl. Hopefully Coach Price will come in and listen to the players, and we can be good again."
Of course Mike Price has one more game to coach at Washington State before taking over the Tide. The PAC-10 champions will take on Oklahoma on New Years Day afternoon, and Pope will be glued to his television set. "I'll be watching the Rose Bowl," he acknowledged laughing. "I've heard Coach Price has a pretty good defense, too."
EDITOR'S NOTE: Normally, this would be a Crimson Ticket story, available only to BamaMag.com subscribers.