On the mend

Kendyll Pope spent the initial summer session mowing lawns to make some spending loot. Plus, he fished and helped set alligator traps for the first time. A refreshed Pope also continues to rehab from shoulder surgery as well as strengthen his neck area following last season's struggles with stingers, an injury that kept him from playing in the Gator Bowl. "You know, one hit maybe could end your season. ... the pain just stayed there for three days," Pope recalled.

Kendyll Pope loves the outdoors. Growing up near Lake City, Pope was raised on fishing and hunting. Still, Pope was somewhat startled when asked to help check on alligator traps one early morning before work earlier this summer.

"I am thinking, 'All right, we will get in his truck and ride (near the bank),' " Pope remembered and laughed.

"But we got out there and got into a boat, and I am telling you the boat was really low in the water and the water was right there. It was like you were in it. But it was neat. I am telling them this is me, this is where I am from. The country. It was really fun."

Pope, Florida State's starter at weakside linebacker, spent the first part of his off-season mowing lawns in Thomasville, Ga. One of his coworkers was former FSU linebacker Travis Sherman, a hard-nosed player much like Pope. Naturally, they also shared many of the same interests. Sherman also loves to hunt and fish -- as well as trapping alligators.

Pope is now preparing to trap opponents for the Seminoles, who are looking to rebound from last year's 8-4 struggles.

Pope, a 6-2, 217-pound junior, started all 11 regular-season games last year and has appeared in all but one game over the last two seasons. He received honorable mention All-Atlantic Coast Conference recognition last year after finishing second on the team in tackles (113), trailing only Bradley Jennings (121). Pope had a season and career-high 14 tackles against Wake Forest and North Carolina.

Pope, however, missed the Seminoles' Gator Bowl victory over Virginia Tech when he suffered a cervical sprain during bowl preparations. He also sat out spring drills following shoulder surgery. While Pope continues to recover from both injuries, he is excited about the Seminoles' potential, especially at linebacker.

Allen Augustin and Mercello Church each enjoyed a solid spring. Of course, Michael Boulware returns at strong-side linebacker, while Jerel Hudson, who must continue to lose weight, is expected to step in at middle linebacker in place of Jennings.

"We have the talent and now, the main thing, is we have depth, too," said Pope, who finished last season second among FSU's all-time sophomore linebackers in tackles behind Marvin Jones, who had 125 tackles in 1991.

"We don't have to have the starters playing 40-50 plays a game and getting gassed by the time the fourth quarter comes. We will have a little rotation going and that should benefit all of us. When we get down to that fourth-quarter battle, we should all be ready. I am really excited."

Of course, the Seminoles also have plenty to prove, especially on defense.

The unit surrendered 356.4 yards and 26.1 points per game last season. Not helping matters was opponents scored first on FSU in eight of 12 games. Against rivals Maimi and Florida, the 'Noles were outscored 41-16 in the first half and 86-40 overall. FSU also allowed 23 rushing touchdowns.

While Pope quickly admits the numbers were embarrassing, he believes the Seminoles ended their season on the right foot with victories over Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech. Pope said he also noticed a difference in attitude during spring drills, and that transformation has carried into the offseason.

"We have a whole lot to prove. We have a lot to get off our chests," Pope said.

"Some people are going to feel that. Right now we have to stay focused. There are going to be mistakes out there but we have to get everybody on the same page because we have a long season ahead of us. When you look back at the past years you always see Florida State at the top (defensively).

"We have a lot to prove. We lost so many records and streaks. Still, teams are going to be gunning at us like they have in the past. I feel like all the players' attitudes are better. I wanted to be out there so bad in the spring that at times I went home and nearly cried. The whole defense was flying around the football -- that's what I like. I don't know what it is, but it's just seems to be a different environment around here and that's good."

It goes without saying the Seminoles also need a healthy Pope. While Pope's shoulders feel fine, he continues to stress strengthening workouts for his neck area. Pope suffered three to four "stingers" last season -- a sharp pain in the neck and shoulder areas following a tackle. Pope admits the feeling is scary.

"There have been a number of players who have had the same problem," said Pope, who will continue to wear a neck pad during games to help minimize stress to his neck area.

"You know, one hit maybe could end your season, even paralyze you. The worst one was during the Gator Bowl (practice). The pain just stayed there for three days, shooting down my shoulder. But I've been working very hard and this is the best I have felt since my freshman season. I learned a lot mentally by sitting out spring drills, watching other guys play -- that really helped. I know the physical part is going to come. I will be ready."

Pope also has used his time helping FSU's younger players -- much like Brian Allen did with Pope when he first arrived in Tallahassee.

"You have to be a good listener," Pope said.

"Anyone older than me I am always going to listen to what they have to say because they have the knowledge and wisdom. That's the way I was raised. I am trying to help the younger guys here -- it's kind of like a role reversal. When I went home recently, a friend told me his younger brother looked up to me. Man, that hit me right in the heart. I was like, 'Somebody is looking up to me now." So that's why I am trying to help out as much as I can."

Even when it comes to checking on alligator traps with Sherman?

"Sure," he said and grinned. "It wasn't that bad."


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