Dick Harmon: Poppinga family hit the jackpot when it comes to athletic gene pool
PROVO — How many fathers can say they had three sons who were on Super Bowl rosters?
I'd imagine such a list would be extremely small.
But that's the case with Dennis Poppinga, a former BYU tight end in the early '70s, now directing the recreation department for Evanston, Wyo.
His sons Casey (Wyoming, Utah State and Philadelphia Eagles), Brady (BYU, Green Bay Packers) and Kelly (Utah State, BYU, Arizona Cardinals) all were on rosters of teams that played in Super Bowls.
"Yeah, but I'm the only one that actually won a Super Bowl," said Brady, a little tease in his voice.
"Actually, we are very fortunate. When you consider there are 32 NFL teams and only two make it to the Super Bowl every year, it is very unusual."
Kelly, the youngest, signed with Miami as an undrafted free agent. He did not suit up for Arizona's 2008 Super Bowl against the Steelers, but he was one of the eight practice squad players on the sidelines during the contest.
Brady admitted the Poppinga gene pool is very unique and has to be the reason for the family's athletic success. Their three sisters — Tara, Krista and Alicia — all played volleyball.
"We've all had a good speed-to-size ratio and it has also taken a lot of very hard work," said Brady.
The Poppinga brothers are known for their size, intensity and enthusiasm.
Their emotions border on the "going rabid" side. The father, Dennis, is 6-foot-5.
Brady said the Poppingas were blessed with very strong — how could we put it — hamstring and upper gluteus maximus muscle fiber that leads to extremely explosive short-burst speed. Those muscles are the strongest in the human body.
"We have very big, powerful butts," is how Brady put it, bluntly.
Two of the Poppinga brothers, Casey and Brady, will be featured in the annual Poppinga football camp at Evanston on July 8 (see www.poppinga51.com for more information). Kelly, recently hired as a linebackers coach at BYU by Bronco Mendenhall, is prohibited by NCAA rules from involvement and access to potential recruits off campus.
"Both my parents have good size," Brady said. "Tara played at USU and Krista played at Wyoming and Alicia could have played basketball or volleyball in college. It's been very prominent in our family to be involved in athletics. And it is a matter of genetics."
Aside from Brady's most recent success, donning a Super Bowl ring after the Packers' 31-25 win victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers, the biggest Poppinga news is having little brother Kelly added to Mendenhall's staff.
"It is a perfect fit," said Brady, who was one of Mendenhall's first BYU players to make it to the NFL following Bronco's arrival as defensive coordinator from New Mexico.
"There is not a better fit, and I'm not saying that because he's my younger brother," said Brady. "I know how Bronco operates, and I know how my brother operates, and I always figured they ended up coaching together once he was a graduate assistant.
"Kelly is capable of communicating exactly what Bronco expects from players in terms of effort, intensity and execution because he played for him and understands every aspect of it, from conditioning to practice and game play.
"Kelly fits that to a 'T.' He has a lot of passion and he loves BYU and if you put it all together, he's going to do a lot of good things. I've already had feedback about how well he's done recruiting and how players have reacted to him as a coach. I think he has a bright future as a coach under Mendenhall, and players have already seen improvement in their games from working with him."
Asked about BYU's venture into independence in football, which officially begins on Friday, Brady said that move was also expected and needed by the university.
"Right now, it is the best move of all the options they had before them. They can pretty much control all their TV and bowl revenue, and the exposure they will receive from ESPN will be unprecedented and can only be a very big positive.
"BYU was the flagship team that was bringing in attention and revenue to the Mountain West and WAC, but they had to share it. Now they will be more visible and keep what they earn," he said.
"It was so hard to get BYU on The mtn, Versus and the other stations. They didn't have the exposure or availability. Everybody loves them; I've heard a lot of positive things from people in the NFL, from coaches and other players. They enjoy watching the brand of football BYU plays.
"If they can play well, consistently win and build it up so they can have a chance at a BCS bowl or a national championship, independence is something you have to look at and take that opportunity when it presented itself," Brady said."
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