Imhotep's quaterfinal win is in the sack

Posted: December 03, 2013

IT WAS THE most peculiar thing. Sack after sack, Imhotep defensive end Naseir "Pop" Upshur rose to his feet, hands out to his sides, palms facing the sky, and shrugged his shoulders.

The first occasion appeared the most impromptu, but after sack No. 4 it was clear the 16-year-old sophomore developed a taste for it after he splashed some panache into the maneuver.

Turns out the 6-4, 223-pound Upshur found inspiration from Michael Jordan's famous "aw shucks" pose in the 1992 NBA Finals, which Kobe Bryant later imitated.

"I was watching highlights and just saw them do that," Upshur said, laughing. "It's going to be trending soon. A lot of people are going to be doing it."

Save for a 32-30 Turkey Day loss to Martin Luther King, the Panthers - 49-0 winners against Catasauqua Saturday in the PIAA quarterfinals - also are trending.

Upshur's stock as a college recruit is likely also on the rise. He has started since his freshman year and already has an offer from UMass.

Perhaps most impressive about his seven-tackle, four-sack day was that he isn't even a full-time defensive player.

"We use him sparingly in certain situations," said defensive coordinator Omar Hales. "He can play in so many different positions. He's a natural."

Throughout the season, Upshur has rotated into the line on the team's nickel package during pass-rushing downs. His first start came in a 48-8 demolition of West Catholic for the AA City Title after starter Qwamere Wright-Downing was injured.

The same size, strength and speed that make Upshur a tough cover at tight end also make him a problem for offensive linemen.

"We don't like to play guys both ways," said defensive-line coach Eric Richardson. "Pop is raw at times just because he doesn't practice it all the time, but he's so gifted physically. And, he's a very smart kid that picks it up very quickly and then can execute it when he gets out there."

Catty senior QB Zack Bradley can attest to that. He tried in vain to escape, but Upshur's four sacks cost Catty 26 yards. Senior Tyrone Barge added three sacks (seven tackles) for minus-3 yards. And, junior Shaka Toney's had another three (with eight tackles) for 31 yards.

When the front line didn't get there, senior safety Deandre Scott certainly did. The Arizona State-bound Scott's 57-yard fumble return to glory ignited the slumbering Panthers. His interception on the ensuing drive helped Nasir Bonner (18-129) to a TD run and a 14-point cushion. Scott's finale, an 80-yard pick-six, pretty much wrangled the Rough Riders.

"It hypes us up," Upshur said of Scott's return touchdowns. "Our confidence boosts instantly and we just come out and dominate after that."

Upshur wasn't needed much on the offensive side. His super-soph brethren handled that.

Tyliek Raynor, master of the jump-cut, rushed for 145 yards and two scores on only 12 totes (12 per). Rahmir Johnson, who came out of the bullpen late, added 82 yards and a score on six carries (a 63-yarder did most of his damage). Sophomore Mike Waters (7-58) also added a ground tally.

Future championship opportunities are never guaranteed, but Upshur seems more focused on sending his team's seniors out with a title.

Oh, and also making family proud. He spent Thanksgiving with his father, Harold, in Delaware. Grandmothers Diana Walden and Ethel Upshur, and an uncle, Larry James, have helped keep him on course, Upshur said.

His mother, Nickeya James, 37, with whom he lives near 23rd and Lehigh, called her son "Pumpkin Seed" when he was younger. At some point, that change to "Poppy Seed." Then for brevity, "Pop."

"When I was younger we didn't really have it like that," Upshur said of financial difficulties. "There were some days when my mom wouldn't eat so we could eat. I just want to make my mom proud. That's all I want to do. She's really my motivation, my mom."

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