The most prolific passer of all time among Iredell County high school quarterbacks has left the gridiron in favor of returning to the diamond.
Former South Iredell star Brady Pope is no longer a member of the Charlotte 49ers football team. The rising sophomore joined the school’s baseball team and will have four years of eligibility beginning with the 2020 season. The football team redshirted him as a freshman.
Pope cited a rediscovered passion for baseball and a shift in offensive football scheme as reasons for the decision he made in May to switch sports. It was kept tight-lipped until this week just days after the 49ers named former North Carolina Tar Heel pitching great Robert Woodard its next baseball coach.
“I went to a couple of baseball games this spring and realized I missed the game more than I thought I would,” said Pope, who played baseball for three years at South Iredell. “And also this spring, they changed the (football) staff. The offense didn’t fit what I do best. It’s more running for the quarterback, more run overall.”
In November 2018, Charlotte fired head football coach Brad Lambert. The following month the school hired Austin Peay’s Will Healy. He finalized his full-time coaching staff in March of this year. That list included Alex Atkins, the team’s new offensive coordinator. As an assistant at Tulane, Atkins had the Green Wave rushing attack among the top 30 in the nation in 2016-17.
Pope made a name for himself at South Iredell thanks to his strong, accurate right arm. He ranks among the top 10 quarterbacks in N.C. High School Athletic Association history for career completions (757; tied for third), completion percentage (64.1; fourth), passing yards (10,624; eighth) and passing touchdowns (112; tied for eighth).
His 292 completions as a senior rank fifth in the NCHSAA record book for a single season.
With a change in direction at Charlotte, Pope began weighing his options. One of those was to enter the NCAA transfer portal and look for another college football program to pick him up.
“It was a thought,” said Pope, the 2017 R&L County Football Player of the Year.
Spearheaded by assistant coach Bo Robinson, the 49ers also recruited him out of high school to play baseball.
Pope said he maintained some contact with Robinson and that they were still interested in having him.
“Sitting down and talking to my dad and brother, we discussed that I have this opportunity now and down the road baseball would probably be the best thing for me,” said Pope, whose older Brett starred at West Iredell High School and Western Carolina and is in the midst of his third Minor League Baseball season, now as a member of the Altoona Curve, the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Double-A affiliate.
“The good Lord has his plan,” said Robbie Pope, Brady’s father. “I’m just thankful Brady has got another door open.”
This summer, Brady is playing shortstop and third base for the Catawba Valley Stars, a college wooden bat league team. Those are positions he is pegged for at Charlotte.
It’s the first time he’s played baseball since the summer of 2017, when Brady was a member of the Mooresville Post 66 American Legion Baseball team.
Focused on preparing for football as a freshman at Charlotte, Brady passed on his high school senior year of baseball in 2018.
Getting back into the swing of things is coming along.
“I’m trying to get my timing down,” he said. “I hadn’t seen live pitching in a while.”
Pope excelled at three sports at South Iredell. When football season was over he moved directly to basketball.
The conclusion of basketball meant turning his attention to baseball.
“Brady never played baseball year-round like all those years Brett put in,” Robbie said. “For Brett, that was his diehard love. Brady enjoyed it, but he also enjoyed football and basketball. I’m anxious to see what he can do when he goes full bore.”
Woodard takes over as 49ers baseball coach for Loren Hibbs, who retired after 27 seasons at the helm.
The past three seasons Woodard served as North Carolina pitching coach. Before that he did stints at UNC Wilmington and Virginia Tech. He is the all-time winningest pitcher in Tar Heels history with a 34-5 career record.
Woodard was taken in the 20th round of the 2007 MLB Draft by San Diego and spent three seasons in the Padres organization before beginning his collegiate coaching career.
Robinson also played professional baseball following his college career at Charlotte, making it all the way to Triple-A in the New York Yankees organization. One of the greatest hitters in 49ers history, they retired his number-four jersey in 2013.
Those two men are the lead figures charged with helping the 49ers improve on 2019 when they finished 21-31-1 overall and 11-18-1 in Conference USA.
“I think we can do a lot of good things,” Brady said.
“I’m enjoying this,” he added. “I’m excited about the process. I’m ready to get back to Charlotte and work with Bo. I’m trying to get back into baseball shape. It’s totally different than football.”