Football: Legend Joe Popp dies
Catawba Hall of Famer Joe Popp died of natural causes in his sleep on Thursday.
Popp was a great football player for the Indians in the early 1950s and went on to a legendary coaching career.
Mooresville High’s football facility was named for Popp in 2010.
Popp’s father was a Yugoslavian immigrant who settled in Pennsylvania to work in the mines and steel mills — one of those areas where the sky was either soot-black or burnt orange even in the afternoon.
The oldest of nine children, Popp’s way out of a bleak future in the mines or mills was the football scholarship offered by Catawba coach Gordon Kirkland.
Popp proved a stellar offensive back and defensive safety for the Indians and the things he learned from Kirkland he carried over to his own coaching career at Jonesville, West Forsyth and Mooresville.
The 1952 Catawba graduate made his mark at Jonesville, where he coached teams that won 35 of 39 games from 1953-55.
After two years at West Forsyth, Popp arrived in Mooresville in 1958. His most powerful Blue Devil teams featured the famed 3D backfield of Herky Doster, Jim Deaton and Ronnie Dyson in the early 1960s. Mooresville beat Hickory 13-12 for the WNCHSAA championship in 1961.
Popp coached in the college ranks after that, including stints as an assistant at North Carolina, Wake Forest and Georgia Tech. He also coached in the pro ranks with the World Football League’s Chicago Fire and the NFL’s Cleveland Browns.
Popp entered the Mooresville Sports Hall of Fame in 2005 with its first induction class and entered the Catawba Hall of Fame in 2008. He’s also in the Cambria County Hall of Fame — the area where he played high school ball in Pennsylvania.
Popp’s wife, Peggy, died in 2011. He is survived by children Joey, Karen and Jim.
A celebration of Popp’s life is planned for Monday and Tuesday, July 23-24, in Mooresville.
Visitation is from 4-7 p.m. on Monday, July 23, at Cavin-Cook Funeral Home and Crematory, 464 East Plaza Drive.
The funeral service will be held at 11 a.m. on Tuesday, July 24, at Associated Reformed Presbyterian Church, 659 Carpenter Avenue, and will be followed by a processional down Main Street and by the Coach Joe Popp Stadium at Mooresville Senior High. Former football players are invited to be in the processional. Contact Bobby Compton at 704-664-5059 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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