You’d be hard-pressed to find a current Pierre athlete who has had a better 12-month span than Garrett Pochop, and he’s accomplished everything while balancing the demands of another opponent.
Pochop, who is beginning his senior year at T.F. Riggs High School, is on quite a roll athletically. Last fall, he had a terrific season in football that culminated with him being South Dakota’s All-State kicker, he followed it up by being the state-champion Governors’ starting point guard and he earned another championship when he was a key member of the South Dakota United Barcelona team that won the U.S. Club Soccer National Cup XII.
Needless to say, it’s been a pretty special run for Pochop.
“When you’re younger, you play all of these sports and you grow up watching all of the high school athletes perform,” Pochop said. “You always envision yourself winning state tournaments and doing all of that fun stuff, but going through those experiences is actually a greater feeling than you think it will be.”
Pochop isn’t satisfied with a two championships and an All-State selection through. He’s using his recent success as fuel to his fire for this season and beyond.
“It’s a huge motivation to follow up on those accomplishments. I got a taste of what it feels like to win a championship, and it just drives me,” Pochop said. “Last year also taught me that we can overcome difficulties. In basketball, we started 2-4 and there were plenty of games in which we made a big comeback when people said it was over. That experience has taught me that you’re never out of a game.”
Pochop’s run of team and individual accolades is impressive, but it’s even more outstanding because he’s battled Type 1 diabetes while becoming a standout athlete.
Pochop was diagnosed with the disease when he was 13, but he’s refused to let it derail his time on the floor, field or anywhere else.
“When I first found out, I was scared. I didn’t know anything about diabetes. Now, I just try to look past it. You can’t look at it as a disease; you just have to understand that it’s one more thing that you have to do. There are times when you aren’t as healthy as you want to be, but I’m not going to use that as an excuse. I just have to put it behind me in order to reach my full potential,” Pochop said.
Overcoming diabetes may have seemed like a difficult task for Pochop as he entered the eighth grade, but he was fortunate enough to have his mother, Cindi, in his corner to help him determine how much the disease could hinder him.
“It helped having my mom be a doctor. She really told me what I could and couldn’t do, and I really never had to go out of my way to have questions answered. She really made it easy for me, so I think that was a big factor in me staying in sports and focused on what I wanted to do,” Pochop said.
Not everyone in Garrett’s situation is fortunate enough to have a parent in their corner with his mother’s credentials, but Pochop is working to be a mentor for younger students in his position. Pochop has spoken to several students who are going through the same battle against diabetes, and he takes great pride in taking that responsibility.
“I never really had anyone outside of my mom to talk about how to overcome diabetes. It would have been tough without her there to reassure me, and even with her, it was scary. I just want to give kids an example of somebody who is living a good life and still playing sports despite having diabetes. Even if they don’t want to play sports, I want them to know that they can do anything.”
The decision to have Pochop talk to seven younger students last spring was a no-brainer for Georgia Morse Middle School Counselor Kim Rogers, and Pochop’s contribution had a positive impact.
“Garrett is such a positive role model. He just embraced his diabetes and really got on board with being healthy,” Rogers said. “That’s why you want him to come in and share his story with middle school kids. He showed the kids that you can have this, but you can still do well in sports and in school.”
The younger kids have a good example of how to overcome diabetes and find success in multiple venues as Pochop has done just that. Pochop has used his busy schedule to his advantage as he takes skills and lessons from one sport and benefits from them in another.
“The more you play any sport, the better you get as an athlete,” Pochop said. “I think once you start winning games, you gain some confidence, and that just makes you a better player in all sports. You learn how to handle wins and losses through playing in different sports.”
After being an All-State selection for Pierre’s soccer team as only a sophomore, Pochop opted to return to football for the first time since he was a sixth-grader. The result was an All-State selection, but Pochop is poised to do much more than split the uprights for the highly-rated Governors this season.
“Last year, I really only expected to kick, but I played a little bit of receiver and some cornerback. I’m hoping to play a lot more this year, and I’m excited for it. Both Jayson and Shannon Poppinga have done a great job preparing me to play more on both sides of the ball. We should be a good team, and I’m very excited for the season to start,” Pochop said.
Pochop took his golden foot to the grid iron during his junior year, with the plan of continuing to play club soccer in the fall. Those plans changed, but he still uses his soccer skills while playing football.
“There were some adjustments to make. In soccer, you don’t really have plays, so I could just go out there and play on instinct. It was just a matter of me learning the defenses and plays in football, and then I could play on instinct in football as well,” Pochop said.
Pochop has thrived in both football and soccer, leaving him with multiple options when he takes his athletic career to the next level. The prospect of becoming a college kicker is appealing to Pochop, but he’s likely to continue his soccer career after graduating.
“I like playing football but my heart is still in soccer, which is why I think I will play soccer in college,” Pochop said. “We’ll see in the next few months, but I’ve been talking to some colleges about playing soccer. Once the season moves along, we’ll see where I end up.”