Pope picks Cornell

Published Feb 13, 2014 at 4:03 pm (Updated Feb 13, 2014 at 4:03 pm)

Hair loss as a youth can be devastating, but Alopecia areata matured Mac Pope. It’s one of the reasons why he takes his role in Natural Helpers as seriously as his sports.

As a member of both clubs, Pope talks to students in the elementary grades in the Upper St. Clair School District and he is teamed up with a buddy, who also has the condition.

“I was one of the fortunate ones. It’s unusual for it to happen, but my hair grew back,” said Pope, who shaved his head up to seventh grade to cover patches of baldness on his scalp.

“I’d still go out. My friends didn’t care. And that’s why I talk to kids about the condition.”

Pope basically tells students that ‘everything will be fine’ whether or not they get their hair back. “The important thing is to have a good group of friends. Associate with good people and do the right thing,” he said. “Whether you get your hair back or not, it shouldn’t matter when it comes to following the right path and knowing what to do and what not to do.”

Today, the right path for Pope is to take his talents to Cornell University where he will study engineering and play football. Pope picked the Big Red over Princeton, Johns Hopkins and Division III schools with outstanding educational programs such as Carnegie Mellon and Case-Western.

“I wanted to play at the highest level,” admitted the 18-year-old son of Lynn and Michael Pope.

Other influences, Pope said, were Ithaca, the town in which the campus is located, as well as the players and coaches, whom he deemed ‘awesome’ and ‘knowledgeable’ about the game, as well as education.

“There is a balance of academics and football and a realization that the purpose is academics. I could thrive here,” said Pope.

At USC, Pope thrived as a fullback, long snapper and defensive end. He earned all-conference honors as a multi-back, ranking second on the team in scoring with 84 points. He rushed for 318 yards on 54 carries for a 5.9-yard average. He caught 10 passes for 188 yards and two scores. Defensively, he recorded 3.5 sacks and four tackles for losses.

“I like both,” replied Pope regarding offense and defense, “but I prefer offense.”

That’s good because at Cornell Pope will be asked to block for Luke Hagy. The former Mt. Lebanon standout rushed for 360 yards last fall. He ranked as the Big Red’s No. 2 receiver with 55 receptions for 652 yards and five touchdowns.

“I’ve never met (Luke) but he’s an excellent athlete,” said Pope of USC’s staunchest rival. “I love playing fullback so I think I’ll enjoy blocking for Luke. Besides, I can help on those short-yardage situations. I can get those two yards.”

Jim Render believes Pope can do that and more for Cornell.

“Mac is a very poised young man. He brings a lot to the table,” said the USC head coach. “He and Luke are matched well together. Plus, Mac’s a long snapper. Everybody is looking for a long snapper. Frankly, I’m not sure why more people didn’t come in and take a look (at Mac).

“But, Cornell did an outstanding job of recruiting him. They were persistent with Mac. They did their homework.”

Pope, likewise, did his homework. The National Honor Society member maintains a 4.6 GPA. Being a successful student will help Pope transition to Cornell.

“The biggest adjustment will be the playbook and the academics,” he explained. “The workload and leading with competition on and off the field will be a challenge but I think having played for Coach Render has prepared me. He gets you ready to compete. He’s demanding, but that’s how football and life are.”

Until he injured his MCL, Pope met the demands of the Panthers. He helped them capture a third straight conference championship and record six shutouts in their first eight games. Because of the injury, he missed most of the postseason but did compete some in the semifinal loss, 28-21, to Woodland Hills.

“It was disappointing, but I did get in the Woodland Hills game but not much,” Pope said of his playoff experience. “I was happy I at least got to play a bit but I was not happy with the outcome. It was hell not being able to play, especially against North Allegheny,” he added of that 41-23 triumph over the Tigers.

Pope plans to help Cornell improve upon last year’s 3-7 mark and play for a few Ivy League championships. And, while there is a need for long snappers in the NFL, Pope would love to be successful like Bryan Walters. The Cornell graduate played for the Seattle Seahawks and now has a Super Bowl championship ring.

“The NFL is always a hope,” Pope said, “but if that does not happen, I still will have gotten a great education. That’s the important thing. Being a good student and being a good role model.”

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