The run-and-shoot offense so carefully installed this season at University of the Pacific helped sophomore quarterback Troy Kopp set NCAA records so fast he became a national media star whose exploits were chronicled by Sports Illustrated, USA Today, Football News and the Los Angeles Times. He told one Bay-Area interviewer he felt like he was in a fishbowl.
Then Kopp revealed his family's personal tragedy of homelessness and continuing separation by circumstance, and Cable News Network and a movie producer became interested.The whole thing's become a dream-world saga for the Pacific Tigers, who conclude their season Saturday at noon against Utah State in Romney Stadium. The Tigers are not only suddenly newsworthy but also, at 4-6, have a chance for their best season record since 1977.
"Because of his ability to overcome adversity in his own life," says UOP Coach Walt Harris about Kopp, "our program has gotten national coverage. It's very exciting. Pacific is not what you'd call a well-publicized program."
Make that "was not." It's in the high-rent district of popularity now, adding confidence to one of the nation's most-prolific offenses.
When Kopp was a youngster, his family lived comfortably in Mission Viejo, Calif., where the average family income is $65,000. When Troy was 13, however, bad investments meant his family lost nearly everything, including its home. The Kopps camped in a public park until Troy's father found a job managing a motel that allowed the family to stay in a room.
Troy still wanted to attend ritzy Mission Viejo High School, so he moved in with a succession of teammates, who kept his plight secret from other students. He told his story for the first time a few weeks ago, saying he hoped he could be a role model for other youngsters facing difficult times.
Now Troy's father is working in Wisconsin, getting back on his feet, while his mother and one brother live in San Clemente and another brother lives with friends.
Though Kopp was Orange County's top passer and All-Southern Section in 1988 in both football and baseball (he was drafted by the Montreal Expos and nearly signed this summer), football scholarships weren't forthcoming.
Harris, then an assistant at Tennessee, pursued Kopp and, when Harris took over at UOP, he offered the scholarship.
Kopp gratefully accepted, then, because he'd been independent of adult supervision so long, Kopp found he resented Harris' strictness. Kopp even quit the team this fall upon learning he wouldn't start a game the week he came back from a season-opening shoulder injury. He and Harris resolved the issue, and Kopp and the Tigers have been meteoric ever since.
Kopp is No. 3 nationally in total offense (347.2 yards a game), and Pacific is No. 3 in the NCAA in pass offense (353.6). Kopp set NCAA records for yards passing in two (1,079), three (1,494) and four (1,884) consecutive games and was the first NCAA player to ever throw back-to-back 500-yard games. After being held to 249 yards at Fresno last week, his season passing total is 2,796 yards. And he missed 21/2 games.