Pope is a senior with 42 touchdowns in 14 games over the past two seasons and 4.4-second speed in the 40-yard dash.
The formal college offers are just pouring in and … wait, what’s that? Jacksonville State, UAB and Arkansas State? That’s all?
As the back who one opposing coach has already described as “a man among boys” keeps scoring touchdowns, a question preoccupies area recruiting watchers. What’s up with that?
Pope and his coach kind of wonder the same thing.
“I don’t know,” Pope said. “I really don’t worry about it, but I don’t know.”
Said second-year Anniston coach Eddie Bullock, “I believe in my heart, top five backs in Alabama, he’s probably in the top three. I really haven’t seen the other guys, but I’ve seen him.
“He’ll squat over 500 pounds. He’ll bench press over 300 pounds. He runs a 4.4 40, and he’s proven it on the field. I don’t know what else you have to do to prove that.”
Pope has brought his recruitment, or lack thereof, to the fore because he continues to score. He has 12 of Anniston’s 13 touchdowns this season, including 11 in the Bulldogs past two games.
He has scored on runs. He has scored on pass receptions, punt returns and kickoff returns.
His four touchdowns in a 35-6 victory over Alexandria on Friday included an 86-yard, 84-yard punt return, 60-yard run and 25-yard, over-the-top pass reception. The pass was intended for wide receiver Quindarious Jackson on a deep post, but Pope beat him to the ball coming from the backfield.
This on the heels of a junior season that saw him score 30 touchdowns and rush for 1,895 yards in 10-and-a-half games en route to becoming The Star’s Class 4A-6A player of the year. The first-team all-state pick missed 2-and-a-half games because of injury.
“A lot of things you see him do are not things you coach up on a kid,” Bullock said. “It comes from him playing so long, and he’s got vision. He sees things.”
As Pope continues to make headlines for making touchdowns, the next question follows in a state obsessed with college recruiting. Are Alabama and Auburn on him?
Well, they haven’t formally offered. No major program has.
And it’s not like they wait to make offers. Most area football watchers can quote long offer lists for Oxford stars Kwon Alexander, Trae Elston and Michael Flint chapter and verse.
They got major college offers as sophomores.
So, why are the big schools slow to warm to Pope?
Some will assume academics, because that’s usually the first thing that scares major programs off. They will assume wrong, because Pope has a 23 on the American College Test.
He’s no threat not to qualify.
OK, so maybe it’s the next obvious thing that people see --- size. Pope is 5-foot-9, and the Anniston roster listed on the Alabama High School Athletic Association Web site says he’s 137 pounds.
That weight is way off, as anyone who views Pope up close can see. He looks 180ish, and Bullock put him at 195.
Even at that, top college programs might look at Pope and see someone who can’t take the every-down pounding absorbed by backs on their level.
Well, Pope once had 43 carries in a game, and Bullock says the size factor is an overrated factor.
“That could possibly be (an issue with recruiters), but it’s not on the football field,” Bullock said. “His height doesn’t do his heart and his work-ethic justice.
“His vision is so good. I heard one of the guys say (former Alabama running back) Mark Ingram was that tall, 5-9 maybe?”
Ingram, an every-down back and Heisman Trophy winner, listed at 5-10, 215 pounds while playing at Alabama. His NFL Combine stats list him at 5-9.
Auburn has gotten a lot of mileage of 5-9, 216-pound sophomore Michael Dyer, who reportedly ran a 4.4-second 40 dash in high school.
Pope could and likely will bulk up.
“He’s just a high school kid,” Bullock said. “I imagine by the time he’s a sophomore in college he’ll be around 215.”
Can Pope bulk up and maintain his speed? Ingram’s experience would indicate that Pope could give a few ticks. Ingram posted a 4.62-second 40 dash at the Combine and was a first-round draft pick.
So, there must be something deeper with Pope, the uber cynic might say. Could there be the dreaded character issues? Pope missed games on suspension during his freshman and sophomore years, after all.
Those issues appear to have cleared up under Bullock, who became interim head coach before Pope’s junior season and permanent head coach before this season.
Some might speculate that the “interim” title motivated Bullock to keep his star running back on the field in 2010, but Bullock has a reputation for discipline. Anyone who has witnessed one of Bullock’s early season practices has seen starters who missed workouts running stadium steps.
Anyone who has attended early season games has seen key players in jerseys and shorts on the sideline. They’re not all injured.
Bullock said Pope has never had the kind of issues that keep a coach awake at night, staring at the phone. Like many young players who see that their talent outclasses that of others, Pope has had occasion to test the resolve of his coaches.
Again, that appears to have cleared up under Bullock.
“I don’t know exactly what they’re looking for,” Bullock said, “but he comes out and gives me a hundred percent on the field.”
Bullock said he has talked to Pope about better marketing himself --- seeking out media opportunities and treating each one as a job interview. Same for sitdowns with a college coaches.
Pope said, “I really want to play college football” and will go where he has a formal offer, but he wants a major-college chance. He lists Alabama, Auburn, Clemson and LSU among schools of interest, but he must get them interested enough in him to offer a scholarship.
“I don’t care about it, for real,” he said. “I mean, I’m going to do what I do on the field. They’ll come if they come.”
If he keeps scoring touchdowns, Bullock said, the bigger schools will have to take a longer look.
“I think he can pretty much go to any major college and play football,” Bullock said. “It depends on the type of system, but the skill is there.”
Joe Medley is The Star’s sports columnist. He can be reached at 256-235-3576 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @jmedley_star.