Austin Pope doesn't have a national or statewide ranking.
Still, the 6-foot-4 ½, 215-pound tight end and safety for Christian Academy of Knoxville finds himself on the commitment list for a Southeastern Conference program that doesn't have room on its pledge sheet for error.
The future Tennessee Volunteer earned his chance to stay home for college, impressing coach Butch Jones and his staff during camp in June. The athleticism Pope put on display is nothing new for CAK coach Rusty Bradley, who says his senior could work a variety of roles on the next level.
“I think he can play on either side of the ball,” Bradley told InsideTennessee. “I think offensively he’s a tight end that can line up in a three-point stance and block in the run game and execute in the passing game as well as split out into the slot and even I think line up as the backside of three-by-one as an ‘X’ receiver.
“He’s athletic, runs really good routes, has good body control, has great ball skills and catches the ball really well.”
Programs like Arkansas, Louisville, Missouri, Nebraska and Oklahoma State expressed great interest in the tight end in the early summer. That got the ball rolling for Pope after the teenager wasn't at his best in 2014 — and for good reason.
“With Austin, having the other schools jump on him early, his junior film was pretty impressive but even then he wasn’t in the best shape because of how much time he missed last summer with his Dad’s health issues,” Bradley said. “So, he wasn’t necessarily in the best shape last year, but his film was impressive enough he was able to get some early offers and especially once schools started coming by and not just watching his film but seeing him in practice. I think that kind of helped things snowball, but I’ve never had a kid that it exploded like it has with Austin. I want to say he’s gotten 12 or 13 offers since May 28.”
Bradley’s program produced a pair of talents that became Volunteers — offensive tackle Brett Kendrick and wide receiver Josh Smith. Both are set for their third year on Rocky Top but still make time to return to CAK.
“They do,” said Bradley, who has seen Smith come back and lift weights with current Warriors. “They’ve really worked hard to develop their bodies. Tennessee has done a nice job with those guys, really developing their bodies and getting them ready to play at a high level.”
In 2014, CAK eliminated Chuckey-Doak 42-6 and Pigeon Forge 26-15 in the first two rounds of the TSSAA Class 3A state playoffs before falling to Alcoa 35-14.
Alcoa put out CAK in the 2013 playoffs as well, winning 42-14 in another quarterfinal.
With Kendrick and Smith leading the way, the Warriors got over the Alcoa hump in both 2011 and 2012, cruising before and after games for the ages against the Tornadoes. CAK finished the gold-ball hunt both seasons, defeating Milan soundly each time to claim 3A state championships.
Listen to the latest edition of IT Radio and hear more of what Bradley had to say about Pope as well as Kendrick and Smith by clicking play below: