The letter contained the foulest of expletives and degrading "wife swapping" references that attacked Poppinga's LDS faith. Poppinga is well aware the overwhelming majority of Notre Dame does not represent the letter's vicious and mean-spirited content, but it was enough to light even more of a fiery intensity within him.
The 6-3, 257-pound Poppinga was so "fired up" he registered a game-high 12 tackles, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery and 3 quarterback hurries. It was impressive enough to earn this Mountain West Conference Player of the Week honors on Monday.
"It (letter) attacked my religion and it attacked me personally. I just wanted everybody to know, and I want them to know that if they want to send me hate letters, please do. We're pumped up enough as it is," a deadly serious Poppinga said.
"I'm sick right now. I haven't slept for two weeks because of my excitement. If you want to fuel more of that fire, go right ahead. That does it; hate letters, trash talking, taunting fuels my fire," he declared.
"I know that's not Notre Dame. It's just two guys or girls or whatever just being irresponsible and low class." Poppinga continued. Feeding our fire was pretty counter productive. I don't hold Notre Dame (University) to the same type of feeling I got from the letter. When we went there (South Bend), I was in the midst of them all and they were the nicest, classiest and most genuine fans I've ever been around.
It's a shame those guys had to ruin it for me. Now when I think of Notre Dame, that letter pops into my head where it shouldn't be like that. I should be thinking of all the good things I've experienced with Notre Dame. I know it's not true and it's something I've just got to get over. Notre Dame, seriously, they were some of the nicest fans and most respectful fans I've ever been around."
After the game Saturday, Poppinga had a chance to talk briefly some Notre Dame players on the field, offering words of encouragement and advice following their loss.
"I think the problem they have just by talking to the guys after the game is that they don't believe in themselves. They don't believe. I said to one guy, 'Hey man, go get Michigan. Go beat Michigan.' He said, 'Oh man, we suck.' I was like, 'No man, you are what you say you are and if you think you suck you're going to suck. But if you believe in yourself and your teammates then you're going to be good," Poppinga said.
He added: "I want them to be good because it makes us look good when they are. The fact of the matter is they are some of the most physically talented guys around. If they can just put it together, they'll win a lot of games.
When asked about his triumphant return to linebacker after a very productive season in 2003 as a dominant defensive end, Poppinga said, "I played linebacker in high school. It's gone very well because linebacker is my natural position. It's what I played my whole career up until two years ago. Last year, I played both defensive end and linebacker so it was nothing new to me. The transition has been pretty smooth. Also, the schematics of the defense really suits the kind of ability I provide so it's been a really good fit." Poppinga noted that defensive coordinator Bronco Mendenhall runs a complex defense using a 3-3-5 base that demands that players learn, read and handle responsibilities outside their normal positions.
"That's exactly what he does (cross-trains)," Poppinga commented, "and he did that last year too. That's a good turn to use. He cross-trains everybody cause a safety could be like a D-end, the linebackers play like a tackle, but where you start is the difference. You could end up anywhere and that's the thing about this defense. This particular scheme suits my talents and abilities a lot better. It's better for me than being a D-end, for sure," he said.
Poppinga said he is rediscovering old joys and excitement "out there flying around, hitting people. It's great and it's a fun time." Playing alongside linebackers sophomore Cameron Jensen, freshman Markell Staffieri and junior Justin Luettgerodt, Poppinga said he is playing with teammates cut from the same mold.
"It's awesome, man. It makes me a better player because they bring energy to the game," Poppinga continued. "It's really a breath of fresh air. Its fun playing next to guys that want to be good and, like I said, they're real energetic. The synergy flows among all of us and extends to the D-Line and the whole team.
"It's very exciting, intense and just a blast. It's just how you imagine football to be since you were in Pop-Warner the way we've been competing the past few years. You just got to get the right combination of guy, build it and all the pieces have to fit. It's really coming to that point this year and it's beautiful, man. It's a beautiful peace of art. It's really fun to be apart of it; that's for sure," Poppinga remarked.
The Cougars play the Cardinal of Stanford in Palo Alto, Calif., on Saturday. Poppinga doesn't expect a similar letter he received before the Notre Dame game, but …
"Heck, I don't care who sends me letters. If you want to feed our fire, go ahead. We're going to be pumped up anyways. I've decided I'm not going to open up anymore letters that don't have return addresses on it. I'm not going to get caught in that.
Quarterback John Beck suited up for practice today practice and spoke with reporters about his shoulder injury suffered during the Notre Dame game.
Beck was in high spirits and hopes he'll be ready for Saturday's matchup with Stanford. He confirmed his unorthodox therapy draws inspiration from the "scriptures" in Doctrine and Covenants 89:8 to help spurn rapid recovery by applying "tobacco" to his bruised shoulder. Beck joked with reporters that he is using "unused" tobacco.
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