Sept. 30, 2011
The following is a part of an ongoing series of feature stories that appear in the Southern Miss Kickoff Magazine. These stories premiere at every Southern Miss home football game and highlight a senior Golden Eagle football player.
Proving Grounds: Terrance Pope
By Kyle Neaves, Asst. Director of Media Relations
At any given Southern Miss football practice, you can find senior defensive tackle Terrance Pope bouncing around making plays. But more often than not, you'll hear him before you see him (and for a 6-foot-3, 290 lbs. man, that's saying something). Yet when asked to sit down and talk about himself and his career at Southern Miss, the always energetic Pope seems to be at a loss for words. Except, at the mention of the place he holds most dear, appropriately named, Pope, Mississippi.
The village, as it is officially classified, of Pope, Miss., sits roughly five miles outside of the town of Batesville, Miss., home of one of the most dominant high school programs in the history of the state, South Panola.
The Tiger football program readily produces some of the top talent in the state and is a mainstay among the nation's elite in high school football and it was in this program that Pope was put into the fire. He was tested against the best the region had to offer, but it is not the place where the defensive tackle began developing his skills as a football player. That place is the village which shares his name.
"Pope, Miss.," Pope says with the bright smile Golden Eagle fans have come to know. "That's where I'm from. It's like the country part - about five minutes down the road. It's hard (to talk about yourself) sometimes when you come from such a small town."
However, it is that same mentality that has made him such a likeable character both on and off the field where he is routinely asked to participate in community service activities and media opportunities.
"It's my motivation," said Pope. "I'm the only one (from Pope to be on television all the time). I'm just trying to put Pope on the map. Not that many people know about it."
Motivation is in no short supply for the defensive tackle who has had to fight for his spot, to prove he belongs, ever since coming out of junior high. In Batesville, the two junior highs merge to create the South Panola juggernaut - Pope Junior High and Batesville Junior High. Getting on the field at the high school level also has an added motivation - rivalry, almost a sibling-like if you will.
Pope battled through, earned his playing time and participated in the Mississippi/Alabama All-Star. Then, as quickly as his high school career seemed to take off, it was over. College was around the corner and there were tough decisions to be made.
Through a strong relationship with current football staffer Barney Farrar, Pope committed and signed with the Black and Gold as part of coach Larry Fedora's first ever signing class that was touted as one of the best in the nation.
For Pope, though, as much as he enjoyed Hattiesburg and Southern Miss, it was also an opportunity to break the mold and get away from Batesville and into some new scenery.
"I had seen most people from Batesville (go to other schools in the area), and most of them, especially lately, ended up back at home," added Pope. "So, I thought it was best for me to get away. If I hadn't, I might have been back at home myself, doing the same old stuff. I just needed to get away from that atmosphere."
With a new coaching staff in place, Pope admits he expected to get redshirted, seeing himself as "the other defensive lineman," of a star studded bunch. But as he had done at every stop before, he proved people wrong and showed he was capable of playing right away as a true freshman.
In his first year, Pope was named to the All-Conference USA Freshman team, which players are voted to by coaches in the league.
For the previous two seasons, and now into his third year, Pope has been under the tutelage of former Golden Eagle defensive lineman Deke Adams - a man Pope speaks fondly of as a coach and a mentor to go along with his original recruiter, Farrar.
"Coach Adams and Coach Farrar, they really took me under their wing. First, with (Farrar), because I didn't really have that chemistry with my first line coach. Then, when (Adams) got here, he became like a father figure to me. We're just alike and share a passion for the game. He, I guess, saw that in me. (Adams) knows that when I'm on the field, it's just like him being there. On and off the field, we have a great relationship."
Pope would like to add to that relationship and bring the Golden Eagles a conference championship in his final season before heading out to pursue his professional career, but not the one you might expect.
Often, when the word professional is mentioned to a collegiate football player with Pope's experience, talent and accolades, the instinctive response turns to Sunday conversations. Pope, on the other hand, has other things in mind.
"Obviously if the chance comes, I'll pursue it, but ultimately I want to coach or do something to influence kids," said Pope. "Playing in the NFL isn't my main goal - I always knew I wanted to be a coach because I like working with kids. I'm always doing community service, things like that, and anything where I can have an impact on a child's life, I'd like to do that."
His give-back mentality might be owed to his mother, Natasha Pope, and aunt, Michelle Woodard, who he says come to every home game to watch him do what he does best - prove people wrong.