Kelly Poppinga has a last name that should be familiar to most Cougar fans. His older brother Brady Poppinga played both defensive line and linebacker for BYU and is now playing for the Green Bay Packers. Kelly credits Brady for playing a huge role in getting him to BYU.
"When I got home from my mission I played two years for Utah State and really enjoyed my time there, but playing for BYU has always been my dream," Poppinga said. "Brady started telling coaches about me and really helped me decide to make the switch just hearing what he had to say about the program."
Poppinga always dreamed about playing for BYU and is seeing that dream fulfilled as he is now part of his childhood favorite team.
"It's just great being here," said Poppinga. "It's awesome. Everything is so great here: the atmosphere, the coaches, my teammates. It's a dream come true for me. I just can't wait to contribute to the team and help BYU win like BYU should be winning."
So why did Poppinga sign with Utah State out of high school instead of BYU?
"I wanted to play for BYU bad," Poppinga admitted. "They were my first choice, but they didn't offer me in the end. They recruited me pretty hard, but had a lot of other guys that year. They signed Cameron Jensen that year actually along with Bryant Atkinson and Lawrence Cowan that I remember. They really encouraged me to walk-on, but I wanted to have school paid for, so I signed with Utah State."
After the first week of spring practices reporters asked head coach and defensive coordinator Bronco Mendenhall if he could single out any players on defense who have impressed him so far or gained his notice. Mendenhall mentioned two players on the defensive side of the ball in Bryan Kehl and Kelly Poppinga.
"That's great, and I'm grateful that he's taken some notice in me," said Poppinga. "I just want to play and contribute. I'll do whatever. Whatever Bronco wants me to do, I'll do. I just want to play and to help the team. I'm very grateful that he's taken notice of me."
Most of what Mendenhall noticed of Poppinga came while he was at the middle linebacker position. A week into practice, coaches moved Poppinga over to outside linebacker.
"That's the position I played at Utah State and that's where I felt most comfortable," said Poppinga of the outside spot. "We played the same 3-4 formation at Utah State and they switched me thinking that's where I'd fit in best."
Ironically, the very day Poppinga switched to outside linebacker is the same day he pulled his hamstring, forcing him to sit out the next week.
"It's frustrating," he said. "It's not a bad injury and I'll be able to practice again here soon, maybe tomorrow, but it's been tough trying to get a spot in the spring and have this happen. I just hope I can get back out there and pick up where I left off."
A Return to Glory
Having followed the Cougars throughout his youth, Poppinga is aware of what the standard of success is at BYU among the team, alumni and fans.
"We need to win more games and we need to close the season winning games," said a resolute Poppinga. "Sure we went to a bowl game, but that can't be the standard. We need to win that bowl game and we need to finish strong."
- As mentioned, the team worked quite extensively on special teams coverages and returns this practice. Today, the team worked on kick offs teams. True freshman McKay Jacobson is slowly taking away the return reps from his teammates. Jacobson returned a kick off for a touchdown today, needling his way through the coverage before breaking it upfield.
- Defensive standouts today included Cameron Jensen who busted through the line to meet Fui Vakapuna for what would have been a two-yard loss in a full-contact drill. Judd Anderton had a similar stop of Ray Hudson. Wes Anderson and Brett Denney converged on Wayne Latu for a loss.
- There was a little movement in who got reps with the one on defense today. Chris Bolden got the reps at outside linebacker where David Nixon had been, Quinn Gooch took reps at free safety with the ones in place of David Tafuna and Ben Criddle and Brandon Howard were the starting cornerbacks.
- Offensive highlights included John Beck hitting consecutive passes to Daniel Coats for 12 yards and Andrew George for 15 yards and a touchdown on a set that ended today's practice. Matt Smith had an impressive one-handed, diving catch of a Jason Beck pass as well.