On the final play of Georgia's only loss of the season, Leonard Pope ran the wrong route and cost the No. 10 Bulldogs a chance to save themselves from their worst effort of the season. The sophomore ran a slanted, post pattern instead of a straight, go route and quarterback David Greene threw the ball where he was supposed to be. The ball fell incomplete and Tennessee won 19-14.
"I think he's beyond that," tight ends coach David Johnson said.
Pope's short memory has been a blessing. Despite the Tennessee game, the big tight end from Americus has emerged in the last four games as just the type of player the Bulldogs had hoped he would be when they won a recruiting battle against Florida to secure his services in 2002.
Pope, who has eight catches for 131 yards in the last four games, will start for the No. 10 Bulldogs (6-1, 4-1 SEC) Saturday when they face the Gators (4-3, 2-3).
He bounced back from the Tennessee game with the best game of his career, catching three passes for 48 yards and his first career touchdown against Vanderbilt. He got his second touchdown last week against Arkansas, a 10-yard pass from Greene that gave the Bulldogs their first lead of the game.
"He never had any trouble overcoming adversity," said Erik Soliday, Pope's coach at Americus High School. "He just always kept plugging away. It was just more his demeanor than anything. Nothing really bothered him a whole lot."
Pope was an all-state player for Soliday. He signed with the Bulldogs but failed to qualify academically because he didn't pay a lot of attention to his school work as a ninth- and 10th-grader, Soliday said.
"All of a sudden, here he is a junior, and he's getting recruited, and he says, ‘I better get busy,'" Soliday said. "He was a pretty smart kid. He just started a little late."
The same could be said for his season. Martrez Milner started the first game of the season at tight end, and Pope didn't catch his first pass until the fourth game. Pope took the starting job in the second game but still split snaps 50/50 with Milner. That stopped when Milner was sidelined prior to the Tennessee game due to a back injury. Milner missed the next two games, and Pope was forced to take almost every snap at tight end.
"I just took it as an opportunity," he said. "I had to make the most of my opportunity."
Milner's injury problems and Pope's emergence have a direct link, Johnson said.
"He's putting all the pieces together," Johnson said. "Before he would do things because he was told. Now he sees the whole picture. With him, we were trying to fight one battle at a time, and now he's starting to accumulate some coaching."
Pope is also doing something else, Soliday said. He's serving as a positive example for his hometown, where several Division I-A athletes like himself and former FSU quarterback Fabian Walker have had a tough time qualifying academically.
"It's great for them to see a kid who had to go through a little bit of adversity to get where he is now," Soliday said. "He's worked hard for everything he's gotten, and I'm sure he appreciates everything now a whole lot better because he had a to work a little harder to get it."