November 21, 2005

New Hampshire boy gets his kicks in Lakeland

Pope, left, hopes to lead Eagles back to state as new season starts.

LAKELAND -- Kevin Pope enjoyed growing up in Durham, New Hampshire -- a small town of about 12,000, about 60 miles north of Boston. He thrived athletically, playing on two state championship teams in boys soccer for Oyster River High School.

Soccer isn't exactly a year-round sport in the Northeast. So his family moved to Florida and settled in Lakeland, and Pope ended up at George Jenkins. It couldn't have worked out any better. Pope emerged as one of the top players in the county on a state runner-up.

"Up there, there were three or four real good teams," Pope said. "Down here, you play against a lot of good teams."

George Jenkins coach Jim Cross [a friend of mine] said he heard that he was getting a very good player last year, but Pope turned out to be even better than advertised. He led the county with 42 goals and was second in overall points.

Pope joined a talented team that was led by the 2003-04 county player of the year, midfielder Jake Howard, who is now at the University of Central Florida. It didn't take long for Pope to fit in with his new teammates.

Pope is more than just a soccer player. Like his brother, he'll be playing college soccer although it won't be on an athletic scholarship. But that doesn't have anything to do with his talent. It's just that Ivy League schools don't give athletic scholarships, and Pope learned last week that he was accepted at Yale.

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