Punishing runner: West Marshall’s ‘bowling ball’ back rolled for 4,412 career rushing yards


Preston Pope has no illusions.

He isn’t very tall, nor is he the fastest guy on the field.

Since his youth playing days in the Marshalltown Football League, Pope knew how he fit in with his peers.

“I’ve always been a little bit thicker than everybody else,” he said.

Stocky or husky, broad or burly, Pope made a massive impact on the West Marshall football program in his four years on the field. His 4,412 career rushing yards and four state playoff appearances helped to solidify his place as the Times-Republican’s 2021 All-Area Football Co-Player of the Year.

“He’s probably one kid who’s spent more time in the weight room than any kid I’ve ever coached,” said West Marshall head coach Cody Hackett. “He’s probably in there right now. He’s in there every day, he’s coachable, he’ll do everything you ask him to do.”

For West Marshall, Pope’s place was to take handoffs, break tackles and score touchdowns. The 5-foot-9, 200-pound senior tailback toted the pigskin 229 times for 1,764 yards and 20 touchdowns to help West Marshall compile a 9-2 record this past fall, falling one win short of the Class 2A state semifinals for the second season in a row.

His senior totals were a shade short of his junior campaign, but a large graduating class took with it a bulk of the Trojans’ offensive line from 2020. A revamped line saw players take up new roles blocking instead of running the ball or catching passes, and Pope’s numbers didn’t diminish much for his final fall.

In fact, he averaged 7.7 yards per carry — the exact same as the season before.

Pope rushed for more yards than 214 other teams did in 2021, and his rushing total alone was more than 45 teams across the state gained on offense the entire season.

“We knew he was pretty special when he was a freshman,” Hackett said. “We didn’t play him much, but we knew he was going to be good. Opposing coaches knew we had him coming up too.

“I’m just glad he was on our team and we weren’t having to tackle him. If there was a stat for it, he probably would have led the state in broken tackles.”

Pope’s ability to run over, around and through would-be tacklers was on full display for the last two seasons, when he was the feature back for Hackett’s Trojans. In 2019, Pope had to share the backfield with his older brother Peyton, the team’s quarterback, and the more experienced ball carrier finished with more attempts and more yards.

West Marshall went 6-4, falling in the first round of the playoffs to eventual undefeated state champion OABCIG, but the experience led to bigger and better things for the “little” brother.

“That was just a cool experience, being in the backfield with my brother and playing together, coming together for his final year,” Preston said. “He was injured so much in high school but he made it through. He played that whole season with a broken wrist.”

Preston’s compact build made him more durable than most high schoolers. In four years, he compiled 598 carries, 4,412 yards, 49 rushing touchdowns and an average gain of 7.4 yards per carry.

He carried the ball 36 times against Aplington-Parkersburg in his junior season, and he put the Trojans on his back for 35 carries and 261 yards in a playoff win against Mid-Prairie this past fall.

He rushed for 148 yards or more in 14 of 21 games over his final two seasons, going for 1,842 yards as a junior and 1,764 more as a senior. He ground out 305 yards and four touchdowns on 29 carries against Iowa Falls-Alden in 2020.

Pope pounded opponsing defenses into submission more times than the obverse.

“He’s like a bowling ball,” Hackett said. “Our line was good but he broke a lot of tackles. He runs with a low center of gravity and he’s the type of player that the more you give him the ball, the harder he runs and wears on the opponents.

“I think that’s just him and his confidence that he got throughout years in the weight room. He likes physical contact and he likes to hit people. There were times he’d make people miss, too, but he really enjoyed contact.”

Pope was the Trojans’ leading tackle as well, totalling 196.5 tackles over his four-year career playing primarily linebacker.

But running guys over on his way into the end zone — that’s where he made his mark.

“That’s been pretty much my game,” Preston said. “I’ve always been a little bit thicker than everybody else. It was pretty early on that I got in the weight room. In sixth or seventh grade I started learning the right form and then late eighth grade going into freshman year, that’s when I really started hitting the weights hard.

“You’ve got to be big to be physical.”

So when you’re well shy of 6 feet tall, growing out is about the only way to grow up.

“He didn’t lead with his voice, he led us with his work ethic and determination,” said Hackett. “He’s not a typical kid you’ll see a school our size get, but he laid it on the line for us. You could see the hurt in his face and the years in his eyes (after West Marshall’s last game), but he should be proud of what he accomplished.”

For Pope, he puts this fall’s achievements on top of the rest.

“Just doing what we did this year because coming into the year we lost a bunch of players and just to come back and bring the team together and go 9-2 and get to the quarterfinals, that was good,” he said. “And just being part of four successful years and four state playoff appearances, coming together this last year to make it four. If you look at the guys we were missing and the size we were missing (to graduation), we knew it was going to be tough but we got ‘er done.”

2021 Times-Republican All-Area Football Team

Co-Players of the Year — Gabe Kopriva, sr., North Tama; Preston Pope, sr., West Marshall

Co-Coaches of the Year — Cody Hackett, West Marshall; Taylor Wurth, North Tama


Quarterback — Isaac Clark, so., Gladbrook-Reinbeck; Peyton Hart, jr., West Marshall; Dalen Huston, so., Marshalltown.

Running Back — Garrett Kerber, sr., East Marshall; Boden Koehler, sr., South Tama; Nick Rebik, jr., Marshalltown.

Wide Receiver — Caleb Egesdal, jr., Gladbrook-Reinbeck; Ethan Gienger, sr., Gladbrook-Reinbeck; Devin McKinley, sr., North Tama; Michael Schrier, jr., North Tama.

Tight End — Adam Greiner, sr., North Tama; Gannon Williams, sr., Marshalltown.

Offensive Line — Zach Chaplin, jr., West Marshall; Clay Goecke, jr., Marshalltown; Thomas Hulme, sr., North Tama; Nick Lucas, jr., Marshalltown; Sam Schaper, jr., West Marshall.

Defensive Line — Dominick Garth, sr., Marshalltown; Cody Gebel, sr., Gladbrook-Reinbeck; Ryan Hosek, so., North Tama; Austin Pfantz, jr., West Marshall; Tristen Sanford-Anders, sr., Gladbrook-Reinbeck.

Linebacker — Tim Benson, sr., East Marshall; Drake Blakesley, sr., Gladbrook-Reinbeck; Jacob Collison, sr., South Tama; Logan Rausch, sr., North Tama; Tom Smith, sr., Gladbrook-Reinbeck; Caden Vellinga, jr., West Marshall; Aiden Zook, sr., North Tama.

Defensive Back — Nick Feldpausch, sr., BCLUW; Kooper Gill, sr., GMG; Bo Lee, jr., East Marshall; Ziek Slocum, sr., Marshalltown.

Kicker — Richard Toe, sr., Marshalltown.

Punter — Rudy Papakee, jr., South Tama.

Kick/Punt Returner — Larnell Bear, sr., Meskwaki; Kyler Smith, sr., South Tama.

Past T-R All-Area Players of the Year

2020 — Brayden Evertsen, sr., West Marshall; Luke Pinnick, sr., West Marshall; Carson Williams, sr., Marshalltown

2019 — Keagan Giesking, jr., Gladbrook-Reinbeck; Skyler Staker, sr., North Tama

2018 — Cameron Bannister, QB, West Marshall

2017 — Hunter Lott, QB, Gladbrook-Reinbeck

2016 — Bryce Flater, RB/LB, Grundy Center

2015 — Jerry Lowe, RB, South Tama

2014 — Eric Stoakes, RB, Gladbrook-Reinbeck

2013 — Duncan Ferch, RB, West Marshall

2012 — Blake Gimbel, QB, Marshalltown

2011 — Blake Gimbel, QB, Marshalltown & Dalton Ferch, RB, West Marshall

2010 — Dalton Ferch, RB, West Marshall

2009 — Jarred Carlson, WR, Marshalltown

2008 — Drake Ferch, RB, West Marshall

2007 — Tyler Peschong, QB, Marshalltown

2006 — Tyler Rabey, RB, West Marshall

2005 — Alex Mayorov, RB, GMG

2004 — Andrew Peschong, QB, Marshalltown


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