Sept. 22, 2003
By Chuck Walsh, FSU Sports Information
Kendyll Pope, one of Florida State’s senior linebackers, says there is nothing he is scared of.
“I’m not afraid of anything,” Pope said. “I’m a country boy, so I’ve seen a lot of things that might make another person afraid. I’m not afraid of snakes or lizards or anything like that. I like roller coasters and I want to try bungee jumping. I like intense activities that give me an adrenaline rush.”
Pope is certainly fearless on the football field. It has been said that Pope lacks the prototypical linebackers’ body but he more than makes up for that with his play on the field. The two-time Butkus Award nominee as the nation’s top linebacker led the Seminoles in tackles with 131 as a junior and is about to become one of Florida State’s all-time leading tacklers. He finished eighth in the Atlantic Coast Conference in tackles and earned All-ACC second-team honors in 2002 and is in the midst of an honor-filled season once again. Pope will start his 28th consecutive regular season game for the Seminoles against Georgia Tech. He recorded a career-high 15 tackles against NC State and was credited with double digit tackles in eight of the Seminoles’ 14 games during the 2002 season. His dramatic interception return for a touchdown against Florida during the final game of the regular season helped Florida State defeat its in-state rival and was not only one of his personal highlights, but one of the biggest plays of the year for the Seminoles. Still though, success hasn’t always come this easy, or without pain, for the Fort White, Fla., native.
As a high school senior, Pope had everything. He was regarded as the best defensive
player in the state of Florida and one of the top linebackers in the nation. Pope was a
Parade All-American and a USA Today first team All-American selection. He recorded
175 tackles and seven sacks as a senior and virtually every big-time college football pro-gram pined for his services. He had everything that is, except for the NCAA academic requirements that kept him from enrolling and playing football at Florida State straight out of high school. While continuing to take the ACT tests in order to meet the necessary standards, he had to watch from afar as the Seminoles won the 1999 National Championship.
“I had to sit out my first year and I missed helping my teammates win a national championship,” Pope said. “Knowing that I could have helped the team and should have been a member of the team was one of the hardest things I ever had to do.”
Pope enrolled at Florida State for the spring semester in 2000 after winning an appeal with the NCAA regarding a course he took in high school and immediately began moving up the Seminoles’ depth chart. He announced his future all-star capabilities and put himself in position to earn an immediate starring role at the heart of the Seminoles’ defense with 52 tackles as a freshman.
“I feel I have a knack for the game,” Pope, who is the son of a football coach, said. “I feel like I am a natural athlete and fortunately the game of football and playing linebacker has always come easy to me. I have instincts and speed that many other linebackers might not have. I can see plays before they happen which allows me to make tackles in the backfield. Being that I am undersized, I feel my athleticism and knowledge of the game allows me to be in the right place at the right time when I am on the field.”
Pope’s love for the game he has been playing virtually his entire life was never more evi-dent than during his junior season when he learned he had cervical stenosis, a narrowing of the spine in the neck area that could potentially lead to paralysis. He suffered numerous and persistent stingers (shooting pain from his neck to his elbow) throughout his sophomore season but continued to take his place in the starting lineup. It wasn’t until the first practice for the 2001 Gator Bowl that the pain forced him to the sidelines.
“I couldn’t turn my neck without getting a stinger down the right side of my shoulder,”
Pope said. “I could have played in the game, but one wrong hit and I might not be sitting here today.”
Pope underwent surgery to tighten the muscles in his shoulder that allowed him to
strengthen his neck through weight training and other exercises. Despite his medical condition he has yet to slow down on the football field or in the classroom. He is a team leader and is scheduled to graduate with a degree in political science this spring and doing so in only four and a half years.
“You will never catch him loafing or cutting corners on the football field,” Seminoles’ defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews said. “He’s a guy that wants to be his best and fights every day to become a great player. He’s not real big as far as linebackers go but he’s got great range, great speed and vision. He’s a very good tackler and he can cover. He’s pretty much a complete ball player.”
A complete ball player who has faced every challenge both on and off the football field to get where he is today as one of the nation’s top players.