The star player on any high school football team has his share of pressure when the Friday Night Lights cycle.
Add in playing in a city like Knoxville as a verbal commitment to Tennessee and it gets that much more pressurized.
Then, put over two dozen current Volunteers on the sideline watching your every move and it could be downright nerve-racking.
Austin Pope, who plays a number of positions for Christian Academy of Knoxville, recently saw a good portion of the Tennessee roster at one of his games. The senior tight end commit embraced their presence.
“That’s cool for them to be here, man,” Pope said. “It kind of fuels my fire a little bit. Being out there and seeing those guys over there and they’re coming to this game to watch me. It definitely lights a fire under my tail to kick it into higher gear because I’m playing with those guys next year.”
The 6-foot-4 1/2, 215-pounder that declared for Tennessee on June 15 didn’t just play well with future mates looking on, he reached the end zone as well with a reception high above the Grace Christian defense.
“It was just a mismatch,” Pope said. “That corner tried to press me earlier. That wasn’t really the best idea. I just got off press coverage, ran to the back of the end zone, (CAK quarterback) Cole (Smith) threw it up there and just went up and got it.”
Pope contributes in a number of ways with the Warriors, logging time at linebacker and safety as well as special teams duties. Versus Grace Christian, Pope set the stage for a blowout victory with a big-time hit on the game’s opening kickoff.
“It felt good,” Pope said. “Last game I didn’t really get to play that much defense because just the need for it I guess. This was a blowout win for us, so didn’t really need me that much. Last game I played maybe two series and it was on the goal-line. I usually go in within the 30-yard line and in, kind of like goal-line stops and stuff like that, just cause he (CAK coach Rusty Bradley) doesn’t want to waste me on defense so I’ll be just dead tired on offense for when he needs me on offense.”
From head coach Butch Jones to area recruiter John Jancek to future position coach Mark Elder, the Tennessee staff stays in consistent communication with the tight end.
“I talk to coach Elder, coach Jancek and coach Jones on a regular basis, probably once or twice a week,” Pope said. “I talk to coach Elder more often than any of the other ones, but I know they’re busy and they’re trying to have a great season and recruit guys at the same time — I bet that’s tough. No, me and coach Elder talk probably twice a week and that’s nice.”
Pope’s official visit could come within the next few weeks.
“I think a lot of guys are maybe taking it the week of Georgia,” he said. “So, I might be going to that one. But, I mean I’m going to every home game because I’m 15 minutes down the street.”
Pope scored two touchdowns on runs out of the single-wing formation in CAK's 48-13 win over Donelson Christian Academy in Nashville on Friday. The Warriors enter this Friday’s contest versus Loudon with a 6-0 record.
Fast Five: Austin Pope