UNIVERSITY PARK — Being a senior is a responsibility Kevin Pope doesn't take lightly. The Mount Enterprise High School product is one of several senior linebackers who SMU head coach June Jones expects to provide veteran leadership to his younger teammates.
"He played quite a bit on special teams for us last year and of course got a lot of time on defense too," Jones said. "He's given us a lot of leadership in there."
As a junior, Pope played in all 13 games for the Mustangs in 2012, including one start and led SMU with three forced fumbles while also excelling on special teams and finishing the year with 20 tackles. But being a leader is nothing new to this young linebacker and when asked to characterize his leadership style, he said it's definitely a mix of lead by example and getting in the face of teammates whenever necessary.
"Well, I'm a little bit of both. If I see somebody (slacking) or short of intensity, I'm there trying to talk to them, bring it up, trying to pick the tempo up," he said. "It's big for the seniors to lead the younger guys so they can come up and do the same thing once we leave. With the senior leadership, I feel like we've got to take over the whole defense and get everybody on the same page and have great intensity out there."
With the graduation of standout linebackers Ja'Gared Davis and Taylor Reed, both who are currently vying for a spot in the NFL, Pope, along with fellow senior Randall Joyner, are expected to step up and help fill that void for the Ponies this fall.
And considering he only started playing linebacker for two years, switching from running back in 2011, it's a transition he's made rather quickly. But being a former tailback does have its advantages for this talented senior. "Well, it helps out a bunch knowing what the running back's going to do," Pope said. "Also having feet like a running back helps me move a lot more in space and get around linemen. So, it's a great aspect to have."
One back he had his share of battles with during his days at Mount Enterprise was current SMU teammate Traylon Shead, a product of Cayuga High School. And even though these two backs competed against each other back in the day, Pope is glad to now count Shead, a former Texas recruit who transferred to SMU after spending 2012 at Navarro College, among his current teammates.
"Playing against Traylon in high school, it was good because it was a battle of the best running backs in East Texas," Pope said. "Teaming up with him now is great. Once I found out he was coming here, I reached out to him and told him a little bit about the program and what to expect. He's come in and done a great job, proud of him."
Steve Hunt is a Frisco-based freelance writer.