Plant City grad Popek signs with New York Jets
PLANT CITY - Former Plant City High School and University of South Florida football player and graduate Mark Popek has learned quite a bit since signing on as a free agent for the New York Jets. “It’s definitely been a wake-up call since I got here,” the 22-year-old said. “Every day is a learning curve and every day you pick up something new.” He is currently working in the New York Jets’ off season summer program, training as a right and left offensive tackle and residing at the team’s training facility in Floram Park, N.J. Popek describes learning almost on the fly as he develops new skills to compete at the sport’s highest level. “There are other players who have been here for 10 years who are extremely talented,” he said, adding that working under a rigorous schedule has been worth it. “They keep us relatively busy but the food, the coaching staff, and facilities have been great.”Although other professional teams had shown interest in signing Popek, he explained that what drew him the most to the New York Jets was the coaching staff. “The coaching staff treated me and the other rookies very well,” he said, and added that he was impressed by their honest and upfront expectations for each player. Popek, who has played football for nine years, had not always aspired to play in the NFL. Popek’s mother, Sharon Popek, explained that his academic adviser, Kelly Harper, recognized that Popek had what it took to attend college on a football scholarship and encouraged him to condition and apply himself. He began working and sending out films toward that end and was met with positive results. “College scouts started showing up and were like, ‘Where has this kid been?’” Sharon Popek said. Deciding to attend the University of South Florida, he made a name for himself in college football where he garnered awards such as 2012 Outland Trophy Watch List, 2012 Second-Team All-Big East, and was named an All-Big East Freshman Team Honoree. Popek is the son of Dennis and Sharon Popek and holds a bachelor’s degree in criminology from the University of South Florida. He verbally committed to the New York Jet’s April 27, and reported to the team training facilities to begin practice May 9.