Before the Seahawks took the field for their second exhibition game Thursday against the Minnesota Vikings, rookie running back Troymaine Pope received a call from his 3-year old daughter Cassidy in Anniston, Ala.
“She told me she wants a playroom full of toys,” Pope said. “So I’m trying to get it for her.”
Pope then took the field and took his biggest step yet toward making a name for himself in the NFL by rushing for 86 yards on 10 carries, all in the second half, as the Seahawks rallied before losing to the Vikings, 18-11.
The Seahawks have a loaded backfield, especially with Thomas Rawls expected to not only return in time for the regular season but likely to play in the preseason — joining three running backs the team drafted in May, along with a resurgent Christine Michael.
So simply put, Pope remains a longshot to make the initial 53-man roster to begin the season.
But the performance of the undrafted free agent from Jacksonville (Ala.) State in the Seahawks’ first two exhibition games has left an impression on coach Pete Carroll.
The 5-foot-8, 205-pound Pope was signed Aug. 6 in the wake of injuries to a few running backs (such as draft picks C.J. Prosise and Zac Brooks), and Carroll and his staff immediately noticed Pope’s speed (he had an official 4.55 40 at his college Pro Day).
Practice speed and game speed, though, can be two different things. But through two exhibition games, what the team has seen of Pope in practice has carried over.
“I’m not surprised,” said Carroll, who said he has gone back and reviewed Pope’s college film again after getting a first-hand look at him the last two weeks. “I really thought we saw some stuff in practice that showed us the special quickness that he has. He’s very elusive. He has a good burst and a good sense.”
What Pope wasn’t sure he had a few weeks ago was a football future. He attended the Kansas City Chiefs’ rookie minicamp in May as a tryout player but left without a contract.
Pope returned to Anniston, and while he continued to keep in shape in case there was a football opportunity, he also eventually realized he had no choice but to begin to at least think about a future without the sport, if for no other reason than his family told him he should.
“I ain’t ever going to get past this game,” he said. “This is something I love. My family was trying to convince me to get a job. I took a long time to even attempt to get a job because this is what I wanted to do.”
But he eventually relented and was on his way back from an interview for a job at a car factory, and on his way to get his own car fixed, when his phone rang.
“Hard labor,” he said of the job, which required putting tools together. “It wasn’t something I wanted to do. But I had to provide for my daughter. I’m willing to do anything for her.”
The call was from the Seahawks, asking if he could get to training camp, and quickly.
“I was just like ‘oh man,’ ” he said. “I broke down. It was a blessing. God’s plan.”
He’s so far made the most of his two weeks with the Seahawks. He scored the winning points on a two-point run in the opener last Saturday at Kansas City. He had more playing time against the Vikings, ripping off runs of 23 and 27 yards in the first two series he played, which ended in Seattle scores — Pope doing the honors on the first one with a 4-yard TD run.
Pope said he has a new-found appreciation for making every opportunity count after an incident in July 2014 when he was hit in the right biceps by a stray bullet when a fight broke out (in which he was not involved) in a parking lot of a bar in Anniston. The wound was not life-threatening, but Pope later referred to it as a turning point.
“God gave me a second chance,” he told Americansportsnet.com in 2015. “So I just want to make the most of it.”
Pope had a big senior season in 2015 at Jacksonville State, a member of the FCS Ohio Valley Conference, rushing for 1,788 yards and a nation-leading 8.20 per carry, including games of 234 yards and 250 in the playoffs. JSU eventually lost to a Carson Wentz-led North Dakota State team in the FCS title game 37-10 a contest in which Pope had 33 yards on nine carries.
The Seahawks are continuing to get healthier at running back — Brooks played for the first time against the Vikings, and Prosise may be back for Thursday’s game against the Cowboys — a spot that looms as potentially one of the deepest on the team.
But Pope’s performance against the Vikings almost certainly means he’ll continue to get a look from the Seahawks.
While Pope says he knows the odds are long, that’s something he says he’s trying to turn in his favor, with a little help from some of his Seahawks teammates.
“They just tell me to go out there and play so I have no worries,” he said. “They just say ‘Man, I have nothing to lose.’ So I just go out there and play with no worries and no regrets.”