Cody Pope says 'everyone was looking out for me'

Center didn't think career was over

Derek Dooley on Cody Pope's stinger injury

Know your Vols - Cody Pope: Junior, center

All it might have taken was one voice of dissent.

At least one that didn't sound like the voice in Cody Pope's head.

If somebody else had nudged him in the other direction, encouraged him to grind through the numbness and weakness or even made him feel guilty for the struggles of the football team without him, that could have been enough to convince the Tennessee center to tune out the rest and get back on the field last season.

Instead all Pope had was a group of people with his best interests in mind, a collection of family, trainers, specialists and coaches that urged caution above all else. Ultimately that kept him on the sideline for nearly all of his junior season, and with no guarantee the stinger couldn't continue to be a risk for him down the road, it also led to a medical exemption that will end his career with the Vols.

"I honestly wanted somebody to say, 'Hey, Cody, forget your health. Get back out there,' " Pope said in his first interview since suffering the injury against Oregon last September. "I wanted the inner-me to come out in somebody else that wasn't looking out for my best interests and say, 'We want you to come back, you'll be fine.' I really wanted somebody to say that, but everyone was looking out for me.

"I'm glad that they were, but at the same time I wish somebody had because then I could have said, 'He told me I could do it.' Nobody did that, and I really do appreciate that."

That doesn't necessarily mean Pope was thrilled at the time, and certainly there was frustration after opening the season as a starter for two games then being limited to practices in tennis shoes without any contact for the rest of the year.

Those feelings might even have been exaggerated since the term being used to describe his injury isn't often associated with lengthy recovery periods. Clearly Pope's stinger was more severe than most, though, and it cost him the last 11 games of the season after leaving in the first half against the Ducks.

Now about six months out from the injury, there's really nothing about it limiting him in his daily routine now. And with the possibility of additional damage still a factor, Pope and his advisors decided to keep it that way.

"Stinger is kind of a generic term, but for what the injury was it does fit what he had," UT director of sports medicine Jason McVeigh said. "It wasn't a misnomer in that case. Basically a stinger is an injury, generically, that comes out of the neck and goes down the arm. Most of the time you do see a quick return of strength and the numbness goes away, and once they prove those things are back to normal, they're usually able to return.

"In Cody's case it took longer than expected to return on the day of the injury, and then serial evaluations after that showed he had some further symptoms of weakness than you would normally expect. I think it came down to kind of a risk-reward. There were concerns that if he returned, something could happen in the same manner that maybe wouldn't resolve. But nobody ever said he was 100 percent disqualified from playing."

There was also no guarantee Pope would be 100 percent ready to handle the physical nature of the game either, let alone the constant contact required of a lineman.

So what first started as a weekly process of telling himself he would be ready for the next game turned into the slow realization that his days in pads at UT were over. Pope dropped 25 pounds, was able to start running again and even crack some jokes about his retirement.

And finally the voice in his head started echoing with Pope was hearing from everybody else.

"Early on, you don't even want to think about it," Pope said. "You just think about getting back the next week. From week to week ever since it happened, you're constantly thinking about how you'll be better the next week. 'I'm up to 50 percent now, I'll be up to 75 next week and the week after, I'll be back for Georgia.'

"It wasn't like one day I woke up and thought, 'This is over, let's move on.' It was a big deal. It was something that I involved my family with, my trainers, my coaches, everybody, and it was over a long period of time.

"It was what's best for me."

Austin Ward covers Tennessee football. He may be reached 865-342-6274. Follow him at http://twitter.com/Vols_Beat and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/ward

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Comments » 21

Orangeblood13 writes:

if the doctor's say so then tuff draw young man

flatrock writes:

Classy young man. Classy staff.

dalvol writes:

Thanks for being a Vol, Cody. I'm sorry that it ended this way for you, but your efforts are appreciated by the true Vol fans here. I, for one, am glad to finally read an explanation about your injury and wish you all the best!

TNVol71 writes:

Cody, thanks for sticking with the Vols during a pretty rough period. We appreciate your help on the field. Wishing you the best of luck in getting your degree and being able to move forward. Coach Dooley is right. If you stick with the program, you become a Vol for a Lifetime.

easleychuck writes:

Good luck in all of your future endeavors and thank you for your contributions.

Vol for Life.

AirForceVol2786 writes:

All the best luck Cody. Thanks for everything you did for Tennessee.

hueypilot writes:

There were some very unkind things said about this young man last year. As fans, at the least I think we owe a measure of respect for the young men who work on the practice field and in the classroom to entertain us on Saturdays. I wish everyone that posted here, football fans all, felt the samw way and posted accordingly. I'd hate for kids to read some of the stuff said about them here.

GerryOP writes:

Thanks for being a Vol ... a Vol for Life. Go forth and do well.

Coach_K writes:

Can Cody be an Asst. even though he's not a grad?

BrassMonkey writes:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

orangecountyvols writes:

in response to BrassMonkey:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Vols,

the Brass *** Monkey is just as I've said before........there will always be one of them on every article.

And I say to you troll..........good riddance.
Your other screen name was no doubt the "wearing skirt" troll.

BigVolFaninSC writes:

in response to BrassMonkey:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Well, you have lived up to your name as less than human with a stupid comment like that! Hope you wind up in sub-zero conditions permanently!

Cody, God bless you and your future and please know that all REAL VOL fans hope that you fully recover without any further affects from this injury! Thanks for being a VOL for life!

dk writes:

in response to BrassMonkey:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

This is pure ignorance that has gone to seed. This poster should be banned from this site.

give_him_6 writes:

All the best to you young man. You are truly all Vol and "gave your all for Tennessee". You are a VFL!!!

BillyVol writes:

Thanks Cody, for the effort you gave us during the few short games you played. I beleive, reading between the lines that the University stood behind you, and you surely stood behind them.

rkastens writes:

Best of luck Cody! Your health is most important. Thanks for all you have given for UT!

zqvol writes:

Sounds like an ex coach could learn some class from a player! Good luck Cody, now get that degree that you came to school for to begin with!

DancingOutlaw writes:

in response to TheMemphisSlim:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

I agree. He should have played through it, and possibly wound up crippled for life so you would think he's tough. What was he thinking?

As for the hair, clay matthews has that "california" hair and he'd rip a man limb from limb.

lomas98 writes:

in response to Dead_Head_Vol:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Seems like the only ones not giving him a hard time were the ones that mattered. This is why fans should check themselves before talking bad about a college student with an injury. If he could have played he would have. Instead he gets called soft or comments about he should eat some meat or he is not a football player. when the truth comes out those people seem foolish. I remember all the crow people ate when Chris Lofton came out with his diagnosis after the season was over.

VOLliven2it writes:

I was disappointed when Cody did not play. I did not criticize what was going on as the expert I am not. Reading this, I am glad he did not play and injure himself worse. Yes we needed him. Yes I prefer meat a few times a week to suppliments. But if you were told you could be damaged for life you might just listen.
Best to you Cody in the future. You have a lot to offer in your life. Thanks for what you gave our Vols even if it was for a shorter period of time than we'd have liked.

VolVox writes:

This article shows the type of people you want in a program-players, coaches, doctors, and training staff. If this is a microcosm of how the UT program operates and the type of people that are in it, there will be many bright days ahead.

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