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Junior college linebacker visits E.L., takes in game

February 14, 2002

The MSU football program could receive another commitment for the 2002 recruiting class.

But unlike the 19 players who have already given MSU football head coach Bobby Williams the nod, Derrick Pope, a 6-foot-1, 218-pound sophomore linebacker from Garden City Community College in Kansas, would add some hits to the offensively heavy class.

Garden City head coach Bob Larson said his All-American spent the weekend at the University of Arkansas and finished that trek with a two-day stay on the banks of the Red Cedar.

Pope’s trip to MSU concluded with the MSU-Illinois men’s basketball game Tuesday night.

Originally, Pope was set to play for Alabama. But when the NCAA placed the Crimson Tide on a five-year probation with a two-year bowl ban for repeat violations, Pope decided to open up his options and take his services elsewhere.

“He was supposed to go to Alabama and that fell through,” Larson said. “And that’s how Michigan State got in.”

But Pope’s final decision still remains a mystery.

MidwestRecruiting.com analyst Bill Kurelic said there’s a good chance the linebacker could make his decision within the next week.

And if the run-stopper chooses the green and white, one can expect rejoicing from Williams and his staff. His gain would be helpful to MSU’s 2002 class, which has added only five defensive players so far.

But Kurelic said if Pope says yes to MSU, his addition isn’t positive just because of which side of the ball he covers.

“I think he’s important (to MSU) in the fact that he’s a good football player,” Kurelic said.

Defensive leader and All-Big Ten linebacker Josh Thornhill is out of eligibility, and that leaves a hole in the middle. Some current MSU players are waiting in the wings, but Kurelic said despite being a smaller linebacker, Pope has the potential to be a Thornhillesque player.

“I think he could be,” Kurelic said. “But Josh Thornhill has done it at that level.”

Larson agrees with Kurelic that Pope’s chances to be a big-time linebacker are good. He said Pope’s small frame embodies all the qualities an upper-tier college defender’s body should.

“He has quickness, agility, speed. He’s a tremendous hitter,” Larson said. “He’s all the things you look for in a linebacker.”

Being a defensive stud will help MSU, but Kurelic said gaining a player with the credentials and experience of Pope won’t shift the Spartans place in the national scene of recruiting.

“It’s not changed that much (if Pope signs),” Kurelic said of MSU’s recruiting class. “One player doesn’t change your national ranking much.”

If Pope decides MSU is the right destination to advance his football career, the 2002 recruiting class will have a total of six defenders.

After Pope, there still would be three more scholarships Williams said he expects to fill. When choosing to fill those few remaining slots, Williams will most likely stay opposite the ball.

Larson said whoever lands Pope will be getting a class act.

“He’s a great guy to be around,” he said.

NCAA rules prohibit coaches from commenting on players until they sign to the university.


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