pope

Pope's Kemper Hodges (6) makes his way upfield against Centennial during their AAAAAA Region 7 game Friday night at Centennial High School. (Photo: Will Fagan)

Pope's football team looks to once again be in position to run its way into the playoffs.

In both years under coach Tab Griffin, the Greyhounds have made the state playoffs, and the success can largely be attributed to their success with running the ball.

Last season, Pope set a single-season team record with 3,143 rushing yards. This season, that number could be in reach, with many of the offensive starters returning.

Rising junior Joseph Stellmach, who rushed for 1,176 yards and 12 touchdowns last season, will be back, while the Greyhounds will also count on the likes of Cade Payne, who ran for 312 yards and three scores, and dual-threat quarterback Kemper Hodges, who ran for 259 yards and a touchdown.

“We’re definitely gonna line up and run the football,” Griffin said. “We’re probably as big up front as we’ve been at Pope.”

Griffin also said that he plans to run the ball to open up play-action passes down the field for Hodges. In his freshman year, Hodges passed for 670 yards and five touchdowns as the Greyhounds’ starter.

“We didn’t want to overwhelm him, especially mentally,” Griffin said of Hodges, “but now he understands the playbook. He has a real strong arm and throws a great deep ball.”

Hodges will not have his best receiver to throw to, as Zach Owens will be playing for Georgia Tech in the fall. The 6-foot-3, 195-pound Owens was injured during the season, but he still managed to put up 270 receiving yards and three touchdowns through the air, as well as 638 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground.

Will Zegers stepped up while Owens was injured, posting 183 receiving yards and a touchdown in 2018, and he will likely see even more targets come his way this season.

On defense, Pope will return much of their linebacking corps, including Rhett Godfrey, Cade Payne, and Daunte Ford. Godfrey, Payne, and Ford combined for 172 tackles and should serve as experienced players in place of graduating outside linebacker Jack Seabolt, who finished first among Pope’s linebackers with 70 tackles.

Defensive end Jackson Thain will also be returning, and Griffin said that the team will look to Thain as a strong presence off the edge in place of the graduated Luke Coffey, who ended 2018 with 70 tackles.

Griffin also said that while it will be hard on the players to go both ways, the team will likely move some of their offensive linemen to the defensive side of the ball to further bolster the team’s front seven.

Pope's secondary took perhaps the biggest hit of any of the team’s units, as ball-hawking defensive backs Ryan Stuetzer and Harry Coppedge-Reaves, who combined for 10 interceptions in 2018, will not return. The secondary will also be without free safety Sammy Cohen, who made 53 tackles last season.

The Greyhounds may use Ross Trombetti, who saw significant action in 2018, Matthew D’Amico or Peyton Cariaco, among others, to fill in the gaps at safety and corner.

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