Football

In His Coach’s Words — Linebacker K’Vaughan Pope

K'Vaughan Pope Progress Index Ohio State Recruiting

 

Incoming freshman linebacker K’Vaughan Pope committed to Ohio State last August, but if he would have had it his way, he would have committed four months earlier when he took his first visit to the OSU campus.

All good things come to those who wait, of course, and when Pope enrolls at Ohio State this summer, it will be the end of one chapter and the beginning of another.

The previous chapter, however, is pretty interesting.

Playing for Dinwiddie County High School in Dinwiddie, Virginia, K’Vaughan Pope began his high school career as a wide receiver.

In fact, as a junior in 2016, he was a First-Team All-State selection on both offense and defense.

However, the story begins before that, as well.

It goes back to before he was even allowed to play high school football.

Dinwiddie head coach Billy Mills has known Pope’s family for over a decade, having coached three of his uncles. Pope’s grandfather has also done the chains for Dinwiddie football over the years.

So there was no way K’Vaughan Pope was going to go unnoticed.

“He was coming up through the little league ranks,” Mills said of his future All-State linebacker. “It’s not hard to pick him out.”

By the time Pope was in the eighth grade, he was ready for varsity football.

“JV is mainly ninth and tenth graders,” Mills explained. “Every now and then if we get a different kind of eighth grader we bring him up, and he was definitely a different kind of eighth grader. He came up and dominated. We don’t allow here in Virginia to play eighth graders on the varsity, but he would have started as an eighth grader on the varsity. That was the year we went 15-0 and won a state championship by 60 points. It was the best team we’ve ever had.”

When Dinwiddie was getting ready to face a player that they couldn’t necessarily mirror in practice, they would call Pope up from the junior varsity to give them some good looks.

“We would bring him up if we were facing a team with a big, physical receiver because we didn’t have one,” Mills said. “So if we needed a good look at that, we’d bring him down and he loved it. He loved to compete. I think three out of our four starting DBs ended up playing Division I and were physical kids and he didn’t shy away from that one bit. We knew we had something special because he didn’t see any difference between him and them, and that was when he was five years younger.”

Pope got the full-time call up as a freshman. He was starting on the varsity at wide receiver. Mills wanted to be careful with him, however, because it can be overwhelming for a freshman to have so much put onto his plate.

“I knew I wanted to play him both ways, but I also didn’t want to overwhelm him,” Mills said. “As great a player as he was – he’s very humble and it’s hard to get anything out of him, but he kind of didn’t understand his freshman year why everybody was so on him all the time. He was our top offensive producer as a freshman, and I told him that if they stop you, they stop us. He had a hard time understanding that and got mad a few times because he didn’t really get that part of it yet.

“But I’ll tell you when I knew I had something special. We had a two-time All-State free safety that was just a nasty, physical kid. During two-a-days and sometimes during the offseason, we do the Circle of Life – I got it from Coach Meyer, out of his book. There’s a line in the middle and they’re in a circle and it’s two guys going against each other. Whoever ends up in the dominant position wins. And of course my free safety stepped out there to go and nobody wanted to go against him. K’Vaughan stepped out there and beat him. Just went out and got under his pads, drove him, and put him on his back. Nobody had ever done that to that kid, and that was when K’Vaughan was a freshman.”

Pope stayed on offense as a freshman, leading Dinwiddie County with 27 receptions for 449 yards.

The plan was to keep him on offense for his sophomore season and wait until he was a junior to finally start him both ways, but plans sometimes have a way of working themselves out.

“That’s kind of a funny story,” Mills said. “I was going to wait until he was a junior. You know us coaches, we think we’ve got all of the answers. I was going to wait until his junior year and I felt that would be a good transition time for him because he was so important offensively for us.

“His sophomore year, I had him as a backup linebacker, so he practiced with us. He knew the drills and he knew his reads, but I didn’t start him there. When we would get up on people, I of course wasn’t going to put him in there in a mop-up game and risk him getting hurt. He didn’t play a lot of defense, but then we were playing a team and the starting linebacker I had in there was kind of messing up, and I got a little frustrated with him, so I pulled him.

“I sent K’Vaughan in there. They had a really quick kid, a really fast kid. They were on the left hash. They ran a toss to the right, to the field. He was on the opposite side on the boundary, but he chases the kid down and tackles him on the numbers for a one-yard loss. So they’re on the other hash and they turn around and toss it to him going the other way, and K’Vaughan does the same thing the other way. And then I looked at the kid that I pulled, and I asked him if he ever heard the story of Wally Pipp. He hasn’t been out since.”

That season as a sophomore, Pope again led Dinwiddie in receptions (39) and receiving yards (654). He also chipped in 40 tackles and 11 tackles for loss.

As a junior in 2016, Pope led his team on offense again, catching 33 passes for 630 yards, and earning First-Team All-State honors. At linebacker — where he was also a First-Team All-State selection, he had over 130 tackles and 30-odd tackles for loss.

Dinwiddie was a state runner-up that season, losing 31-27 to Salem. Pope had eight catches for 139 yards and a touchdown in that game. On defense, he had 17 tackles and two tackles for loss.

Two weeks earlier, Dinwiddie had to come from behind to beat Lake Taylor. In that game, Pope had six receptions for 76 yards and a touchdown on offense, as well 15 tackles and two interceptions on defense. That performance included this 80-yard interception return in the final minutes as Lake Taylor was driving to tie or take the lead.

This past season as a senior, Pope stayed mostly on defense because opponents were going low on him when he would play receiver, and he battled a high-ankle sprain for much of the season. Despite missing some time due to injury, he still finished with over 100 tackles and 16 tackles for loss, and once again earned First-Team All-State accolades.

But for as many stories as there are to tell about K’Vaughan Pope on the field, there are even more to tell about his time off the field.

“He is a competitor. That’s the best way to put it,” Mills said. “He’s always competing. He gets after it in the weight room and he gets his teammates right. He’s that kind of kid. We had a kid that just moved in here and he was a foster kid. He lost his parents. It was a mess, but nobody knew that. Nobody knew who the kid was, but K’Vaughan saw that kid over there by himself and he goes over there and pulls that kid in and makes that kid feel like he’s part of something. He’s that kind of person. When you’ve got a kid like that and he’s a captain and a great football player, it just doesn’t happen a whole lot.”

Urban Meyer frequently talks about wanting players who provide energy to the program, as opposed to those players who are always taking energy away from it.

Mills doesn’t foresee any problems with Pope in that regard.

“He’s kind of hard to describe. This is gonna sound corny, but the kid makes you happy when he comes into a room,” he said. “I don’t know if you’ve ever been around somebody like that. He just makes you smile when he comes in. He’s just an incredible person. He sticks his head every day coming into practice like, ‘Hey Coach, how’s it going?’ He’s not moping around because he’s got to practice. He loves to practice.

“He’s just a fun kid. Sometimes I tell him he’s like a 6-foot-2 three-year old. We’ve got a bunch of coaches’ kids running around. They’re five and six-years old and he’ll be over there playing with them and having just as much fun as they are. He’s a good person, a good kid, and like a son to me.”

When Pope was just a freshman, Mills knew he was going to be a major college football player, so during summer workouts before the season he would talk to him about the work that he would have to put in, and the need to remain humble every step of the way. They talked often about college and the focus that would be needed to reach his goals. They also talked about possible destinations for Pope after high school.

“I asked him where he wanted to go play ball and he said Florida,” he said. “I asked him why and he said he didn’t know, he just always liked them. So we flew down there, and of course everywhere we went his sophomore year he got an offer after he left a camp. We went to Alabama and we got the offer. He got to experience all of those places. We went to Clemson. He got to experience them all. I thought he liked Clemson a lot. His brother is a big Clemson fan. His little brother, he’s our quarterback. So I thought he liked them a lot. Shoot, I thought he was going to go there.”

But then Ohio State came calling.

“I think Ohio State impressed him – K’Vaughan played basketball, and I wasn’t in the weight room at that point and still in math classes,” Mills explained. “My kids who played in other sports would come in and get their lifts in in the morning. So he came in and he didn’t miss a day of workouts, and we go four days a week. Two or two-and-a-half hours a day.

“I think we ended up last year with 95 workouts. We take the mandatory weeks off, but he hasn’t missed a day in three years even though he’s playing other sports. He’s finding a way to get in there. I think it impressed him that [OSU linebackers] Coach [Billy] Davis came in at six in the morning for his visit. Because I told Coach Davis what his schedule was, and sure enough Coach Davis walks in here for a 6:00 a.m. workout.”

Pope and Davis hit it off, and it also didn’t hurt that Dinwiddie County players have been exposed to a lot of the Ohio State philosophy through Urban Meyer’s coaching techniques and books. There was a familiarity there even before Pope got to know the program.

The first visit to Ohio State then changed everything.

“We went up there and he was just blown away by his visit,” Mills said. “He loved the way they competed in practice. He loves competition. I think sometimes he can get a little frustrated because we have some really good players, but he doesn’t really get a lot of competition. If K’Vaughan turned loose on some of these kids on our team on a tackle, he’s probably going to hurt them because he’s just so explosive out of his hips.”

Mills didn’t know it at the time, but Pope had seen enough. It was so early in the process, however, that everyone around him told him to slow things down a bit and make sure he wasn’t rushing into something prematurely.

“We had a long talk on the way back and I wasn’t really sure that he liked it,” Mills said. “But he called me, and I was on vacation during spring break and he tried to commit then. His mom wouldn’t let him. Not because she didn’t like Ohio State, but because he hadn’t really visited anybody hardly. Even Coach Meyer told him, ‘Look, go somewhere else and gauge it.’ And he ended up taking the Georgia visit in the summer, but shoot I had to make him do that. I said just go down there. They want you to come down and check it out so that you’ve got something to gauge it by.

“But that’s him though. He had made up his mind in April and there wasn’t anything that was going to change it. He loves the big football atmosphere and he loves the fact that Coach Meyer takes care of you after you finish playing. Not just the internships, the whole thing. They have guys there that help them transition into life after football. It’s impressive.”

It was that promise of life after football that stuck with Pope, and it was something that Mills didn’t want him taking for granted.

“The whole atmosphere and the life after football was what was really big for him,” he said. “I told him, ‘K’Vaughan, use this stuff. Go somewhere where you would go if you weren’t playing football. Go where you would love being.’”

In the end, that’s exactly what K’Vaughan Pope did, and when he arrives at Ohio State this summer he will officially become a Buckeye. And if the next chapter is anything like the last chapter, it should be a pretty interesting read.

[K’Vaughan Pope photo courtesy of the Petersburg Progress-Index.]

 

3 Responses

  1. I was lucky enough to coach him for three years with Coach Mills. Get ready Buckeyes. You guys don’t know what we know…..yet. Oh and don’t be surprised if Coach puts him on offense some too.

    He is like Roquon Smith and Anquon Boldin wrapped into one

  2. I’m a Canton, Ohio boy living in Diwiddie County,VA and love the idea of a local boy playing in Columbus. He is legit on and off the field and hope things work out well for him at OSU!

  3. He’s been playing defence, but we sure could use a receiver that size, especially one that can make the catch he does in that video.

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