pope

Pope running back Joe Stellmach set himself for a future in the military, committing to play at the Air Force Academy.

Pope running back Joe Stellmach committed to the U.S. Air Force Academy, announcing his decision via Twitter on Monday.

“It was a tough decision between Air Force and Navy,” said the rising senior, who also had an offer from Stetson. “Becoming a pilot is definitely something I’ve wanted to do in the military if I were to go in, and I just thought Air Force was the best decision for me.”

Stellmach is entering his third season as Pope’s starting running back. In his sophomore season of 2018, he finished with 12 touchdowns and the third-most rushing yards in Cobb County with 1,176 on 161 carries.

Last season, Stellmach broke his sternum following Pope’s Week 4 matchup against Alpharetta and missed the remaining six games. He still finished as the Greyhounds’ leading rusher with 511 yards and six touchdowns.

Pope coach Tab Griffin believes Stellmach’s absence was undoubtedly felt, as the team scored an average of 10.5 points per game over their final four games.

“When he went down, we kind of had a hard time scoring after that,” Griffin said. “He has a natural vision that’s hard to coach in running backs.”

The recovery process for Stellmach involved plenty of rest and putting a pause on lifting weights, but he has made a full recovery and is looking forward to a bounce-back season.

“I’m already back at, if not past, all of my (workout) maxes right now,” Stellmach said. “I don’t feel any pain in my sternum anymore.”

The 5-foot-10, 190-pound Stellmach is featured as the power running back for Pope, but Griffin believes there is more to Stellmach’s game that he will take to Air Force.

“A lot of people underestimate his speed,” Griffin said. “People take wrong angles on him because they don’t think he’s as fast as he is. He fools a lot of people when he gets out into the open and (reaches) that next gear.”

Stellmach’s commitment follows an 11-2 season by Air Force, which was capped by a 31-21 victory against Washington State in the Cheez-It Bowl. He is the fourth running back commit for the Falcons’ 2021 recruiting class, which bodes well for coach Troy Calhoun as he utilizes the triple option.

“I think he’s a perfect fit. You tell him what to do and he’s going to do it as hard as he can,” Griffin said. “I really think he’s going to be special at that level, and I think he’s going to be special at that school. He has everything that (Air Force) looks for.”

Stellmach’s commitment to Air Force continues a pipeline of Pope recruits to the service academy over the last decade, following Garrett Brown and brothers Max and Mike Kemper.

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