South's Pope inks with Indians

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 20, 2011

By Ryan Bisesi
After merging all over the defensive side of the field in his senior year at South Rowan, Leo Pope will have a place to call home next year.
Two, in fact.
The 6-foot-2, 215-pounder was the most imposing and diverse of the Raiders in 2010, seeing time at linebacker, fullback as well as the defensive and offensive lines. When he suits up at Catawba, the versatile threat will be stationed at defensive end.
Regardless of the school or position, the soft-spoken Pope is greatful for the opportunity to play college football. Catawba was the only school to pursue Pope, hoping to find a hidden gem.
“I had been getting questionaries from some colleges, but at the beginning of the year, I didn’t think I was going to play in college,” Pope said.
And have his own fan club.
“I know I’m going to have a bunch of people cheering me on,” Pope said. I’ve already had people at my church telling me they’re going to have to buy season tickets.”
Pope, who’s highest bench press is 350 pounds, said he would like to add 20 pounds to an already stout frame. He spent most of his time at linebacker at South, but his size translates to a better fit on the line at the college level.
“We always thought he had the size and ability to play at that level,” South coach Jason Rollins said. “Good college coaches will see a kid like that and say ‘hey, he’s used more than one place and we know we can use him here.’”
Pope was part of a stellar 9-2 campaign for South in 2009 before that team graduated 27 seniors and struggled to a 2-9 mark last year. Rollins says Pope’s presence was just as noteworthy, especially in last year’s game against A.L. Brown. In a loss to the Wonders, Pope had 15 tackles at linebacker, helping earn a spot on the All-NPC team. Pope said he gauged his performance on the defensive line at South not by sacks or tackles but by keeping containment.
“We moved him down to the line because we felt like he could slow things down,” Rollins said. “Catawba’s very fortunate to get Leo because a lot of schools are missing out on a kid that let us use him in so many different ways.”
Current Catawba player Daniel Donaldson, shared the same number with Pope at South Rowan, 52. Brian Hinson, the 2009 Rowan County Co-Coach of the Year while at East Rowan, was Pope’s recruiter. Pope says Hinson inquired about him around Christmas.
“For his size and his strength, he’s got the ability to take care of that end line,” Rollins said. “For me, games are won and lost in the trenches and he’s a kid that can make things happen off the edge.”
Pope most remembers the 2009 playoff game with R-S Central where the Raiders’ best season since 1983 ended suddenly in a 28-21 defeat.
“It really stunk,” Pope said. “Knowing everyone had to come off the field for the last time.”
Pope hopes to walk on the field at Catawba in the coming years with the same passion.