Under normal circumstances, the Greyhounds would embrace the challenge of going against the likes of Walton, Lassiter, Wheeler, Etowah and Milton when they begin playing in Region 5AAAAAA in the fall.
Pope seemed on track to make the playoffs a fourth straight season this time last year, but several skill players on both sides of the ball didn’t return to the team, and the Greyhounds were forced to rebuild. That led to a 3-7 record, and Pope has no choice but to build upon last season by playing teams with larger rosters.
Pope immediately found success after moving down a classification in 2010, going to the playoffs for three straight seasons and winning a region title in 2011.
In an attempt to move forward, it was business as usual when players reported to spring practice earlier this month.
“School-wide, there were uncertainties about us going back to the larger classification and playing strong programs,” Pope coach Matt Kemper said. “But the kids didn’t worry about that. They took care of business, and that’s to get better every day. They just wanted to get back on the field, play ball and practice.”
Pope will at least benefit from the experienced offensive line that also helped carry the team a year ago. This year’s line will be more experienced behind Kemper’s twin sons, Max and Mike Kemper, who are rising seniors. Matthew Pittarelli and Matthew Jones are also returning to strengthen the Greyhounds’ front line.
Also working in Pope’s advantage offensively is seven returning starters from last year, but the Greyhounds are still trying to find the right combination to play behind their stout offensive line.
Taylor Wolf is returning as the starting quarterback after securing the position last season. Carson Day is coming off a strong spring expecting to be one of Pope’s top receivers, and Bryan Terry is leading a group of young tailbacks all fighting for playing time.
But to keep up with its new region opponents, Pope will have to make defensive improvements. The Greyhounds gave up an average of 40.6 points per game last season, allowing four of their opponents to score 50 points or more.
Kemper said he made tweaks during spring practice, and the defense is now playing more of a “gap control kind of system.” Kemper want his players to stuff the box and force opponents to throw the ball more often.
“No matter if it’s high school, college or NFL, you’ve got to be able to stop the run,” Kemper said. “I think we will be more sound that way.”
Kyle Woyce is returning at linebacker after making strides at the tail end of last season, but Pope’s experience lies in the secondary. Defensive back Brayden Zarbinsky and Taylor Waddilove impressed during spring drills, while Logan Cooperman and Keegan Phipps add depth and experience to the defensive backfield.