Know your Vols - Cody Pope: Junior, center
His offensive-line teammates, big guys all, prefer a slab of ribs. The big guy with the pony tail will have the sushi, thank you.
There is no cheeseburger in Cody Pope's paradise.
The 290-pound, 6-foot-6 junior projected to be Tennessee's starting center might be college football's largest vegetarian.
If he's not college football's only vegetarian, surely they could all be seated at the same table. Just make sure the table isn't at a burger joint.
"I've been a vegetarian from birth,'' the Southern California native said. "My parents have always raised me that way.
"I guess they're two California hippies,'' he added with a laugh.
Technically, Pope labels himself as a pescatarian - he eats fish and seafood, but no other animal meat.
Boy, does he eat seafood. And pasta. And veggies and fruit.
"Ask the offensive linemen how much I eat,'' Pope said. "They tell me if I ate meat I'd weigh 500 pounds.
"I can out-eat all the big boys, (Jarrod) Shaw, (JerQuari) Schofield, any of them.''
Pope has seen enough message-board chatter to be aware that some UT fans are anxious about having a vegetarian anchoring the offensive line. They would, it seems, prefer a red-blooded carnivore.
But as far as his coaches or teammates go, Pope said he's never heard a discouraging word.
On the contrary, he feels blessed the program has gone out of its way to support his needs. That's where UT nutritionist Allison Maurer comes in.
"Lucky for me he eats fish,'' Maurer said.
"I plan all the meals when we travel. I always make sure there's a vegetarian option for Cody. I want to make sure that he feels he's being cared for.''
Last week after a scrimmage, the team's post-game snack was catered by Chandler's, a barbecue restaurant. Maurer picked up a vegetarian burrito from Moe's for Pope.
"In a way, it's spoiling me,'' Pope said. "I'm the only player she has to go out of her way for.
"I don't like to make a big deal out of it.''
In geography and lifestyle, Pope might be the farthest Vol from home.
He grew up in Julian, Calif., a small former gold-mining town in the mountains an hour east of San Diego.
"Being from Southern California, everybody thinks you must be a beach bum,'' Pope said. "That wasn't exactly the case.
"We'd have three feet of snow sometimes.''
His parents, Chris and Sherri, have been vegetarians all their adult lives. Rather than being viewed as left-coast weirdos, they have been embraced by his teammates, Pope said:
"I always hear from the players, 'Your parents are so cool; they're great people.'
"I'm just so fortunate I've had a loving family.''
Now, his UT family is a bunch of meat-eating behemoths. The offensive line has made a point of hanging out and eating together this summer.
"I guess I'm the big what-if,'' Pope said. "They say, 'Can you eat here?' ''
The answer is generally yes. Pope will find something acceptable on most any menu, but he has his preferences.
The Sunspot on Cumberland Avenue is a favorite. So is any seafood or sushi buffet.
"Eating fish and beans, he's getting plenty of protein,'' Maurer said. "He's probably getting better protein sources than the other guys on the team.
"I don't worry about him keeping his weight, the way he piles food on his plate.
"And he drinks the protein shakes after a workout. They're 700 calories and he'll drink two in less than five minutes. ''
If it makes nervous fans rest any easier, Pope shared the 2010 John Stucky Award presented to the players who demonstrated the best physical and mental conditioning in the offseason.
Shaw, a 330-pound guard, is a frequent dining partner. His diet was limited when he arrived on campus from Louisiana.
"He's got me to eat Mexican, things like that I never tried before,'' Shaw said.
What about sushi?
"I tried sushi one time and almost threw up,'' Shaw said. "I ain't trying it again.''
Sometimes the Vols try to broaden Pope's horizons, just as he has theirs.
"We try,'' said tackle Dallas Thomas, "to get him to eat meat, but it's not working. He's a full-blown, hard-core vegetarian.''
Which makes him one of a kind at UT.
"Even cross country or track, he's my only one,'' said Maurer.
"It's kind of funny that the one vegetarian I have is an offensive lineman.''
Mike Strange may be reached at email@example.com or 865-342-6276.