Walker Valley Mustangs' senior quarterback Tucker Pope has landed a spot on Murphy Fair's preseason 5A football team.
Taking the reins in 2019, Pope threw for 1,990 yards with 19 touchdowns and a 59.5 completion percentage. The rising senior also did the job with his legs rushing for 362 yards on 62 carries with two Tds.
Bradley Bears' running back Jalen Hunt and McMinn County offensive lineman Bryce Goodner made the 6A preseason list.
“This is exciting for Tucker,” said Mustangs' coach Drew Akins. “He had a great junior year in his first year to be able to be the main quarterback in our program. I think he did an outstanding job coming in and learning the new offense pretty quickly. He led us to some big wins over the season. He had a huge hand in many of the wins we had and had a huge hand in many of the games we were competitive in.”
Pope said he is happy to see his name listed and was surprised it was there. He credits he impressive stats for the notice from the publication.
“It's and honor. I was surprised when I saw it. I was just surprised I was even on the list. There is a bunch of good players on the list.”
“I think my stats last year kind of showed. It was my first year with coach Akins. The stats really showed up for me. I had a lot of interceptions (12), but I also threw a lot of touchdowns and had a good number of rushing yards also.”
Akins agreed saying Pope has talent not often found in a high school quarterback with a competitive fire that is found in a small percentage of athletes.
“He's got really special arm talent. He throws a great football. He's got great strength and can make any throw on the field which in high school becomes really hard to defend. If you're throwing it to the field outside the numbers, that's a tough throw to defend. Not many high school players can make those throws. Also, he's just a competitor,” bragged Akins.
“I think any quarterback you look at who has been in our system, whether it be a quarterback at Ooltewah or a quarterback at Red Bank, they have an innate ability to be a competitor all the time. He has that. He is just a competitor. When things go bad he doesn't mind stepping up and making a play. A lot of kids will shy away from that. That is one thing our quarterbacks have always done. They've shown they are going to be a competitor at all times.”
This season the 6-2, 205-pound righty will be looking to grow his stats even more with the help of fellow seniors.
“It's a goal of mine 100% (to up stats). I really didn't run the ball that much last year and I still ended up with 400 yards. If he puts me in the run game a lot more this year my total should really jump up. I will be able to fan the pocket this year and run it more this year,” he said. I will be looking for Daniel Denton, Brody Swafford and those guys. They are seniors in my class and they are leaders, too. I will be looking for them. Those guys are really going to help me also, to get my numbers up.”
Building his stats up from last season could be a daunting task for Pope if the football season is cut to eight games. Still, the Mustangs' skipper feels the scene is set for Pope to again distinguish himself on the football field.
“I think offensively we are set up where he can have a special season. We're going to bas our offense around him making decisions, making the right decisions and putting the ball into our athletes' hands. We've got some kids who can really make plays of we can get it in their hands,” Akins said. “Just going through June and July I've seen such a transition and a progress from him being able to put the ball in the hands of those receivers and running backs and letting them go make a play in space.
“I definitely see him matching last year's totals and really surpassing that,” he continued. “Not only on the field with numbers, but also as a leader on our football team. Our offense looks to him. When that play needs to be made they count on him to be able to do that, whether it be in the passing game or running the football. He had nearly 400 yards rushing last year and I see that number also increasing. Offensively, we are just going to look to him when a play needs to be made. We're going to put th ball in his hands and let him go make the play.”
With the season looking at possible only eight games, Pope and the Mustangs have their eyes set on winning a minimum of seven games and are looking to run the table on their way to a region championship.
“We want to win the region, win seven games. Win eight games actually. That's our goal. Coach Akins has been talking about that,” he said. “No matter when it starts I will be ready to go. Hopefully it starts. This is my last year and I really want to play my senior year of football.”
Pope also said he is looking to continue his career when he leaves Walker Valley, but doesn't yet know where.
“I'm looking to play football when I leave here. Hopefully, I will get and offer somewhere,” he said.