After graduating from high school, Poppinga took a two-year hiatus from school to serve a Mormon mission in Uruguay, South America.
Upon his return, he attended Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. Poppinga quickly earned a place on the Cougar roster, playing in all 12 games of the 2001 season at defensive end, recording 10 tackles, a fumble recovery, and one pass defensed on the season.
Poppinga's performance as a freshman gave him even more playing time in the 2002 season, including two starts and playing time in all 12 contests. He responded with a conference-leading eight sacks, and was named to the first-team All-MWC and as an MWC All-Academic selection. Poppinga also forced three fumbles and had three quarterback pressures on the season. He was also given an award for the top defensive lineman on the BYU Cougars.
Poppinga started all 12 contests at defensive end in the 2003 season. He led the team and finished seventh in the conference in sacks with six, and was among the top players in the conference in tackles with 55 (34 solo) and once again earned All-MWC honors.
In 2004, Poppinga started every game of his senior season, shifting near the end of the season from defensive end to outside linebacker. He finished third on the team in tackles with 79 (35 solo), also accumulating six sacks and one forced fumble, and for the third time in his career was selected for first-team All-MWC honors. Poppinga was also a candidate among 58 others for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy for the nation's top defensive player.
Green Bay PackersEdit
Poppinga entered the National Football League (NFL) on April 24, 2005, when he was selected in the fourth round (125th overall selection) of the 2005 NFL Draft by the Green Bay Packers. On July 26, 2005 Poppinga sigend a four-year $2.4 million contract with the Packers.
The Packers were excited about Poppinga's speed and skills as a pass rushing linebacker. However, Poppinga suffered a hamstring injury during training camp, forcing him to miss three preseason games. Because of the injury, he was unable to compete for a starting position at outside linebacker for the 2005 NFL season, and took a backup role, occasionally playing as part of a deep linebacker corps also featuring Na'il Diggs, Roy Manning, Robert Thomas and Paris Lenon.
Poppinga contributed most significantly to the 2005 season with his high-energy play as a coverage man on special teams plays, posting a team-high 22 special teams tackles through the Packers' first 13 contests. Though Poppinga never started at linebacker in 2005, he saw more and more playing time through the season due both to injuries suffered by the starting players and because of his ability as a pass-rusher. This special pass-rushing role played to Poppinga's strengths and allowed him to post two sacks during the 2005 season. His best single-game performance was an October 23 contest against Minnesota, in which he accumulated five tackles (3 solo) and one sack of Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper.
Green Bay's coaching staff was impressed by Poppinga's high motor and relentlessness on every play. He displayed both in one of the few Packer victories of the season, a 33-25 contest against the Atlanta Falcons. Though the play resulted in an Atlanta touchdown, Poppinga displayed his range and quickness by nearly running down superstar quarterback Michael Vick on a one-yard scramble into the end-zone. Poppinga's pursuit forced Vick to stretch the play all the way to the right sideline, and only Vick's speed allowed him to dive past Poppinga and over the end zone pylon. The fact that Poppinga had begun the play at the left side of the formation displayed his unrelenting attitude and sharp instincts. In August, 2006 packers' linebackers coach Winston Moss said "I'll bet he sleeps with his eyes open,", referring to Poppinga's endless energy.
Poppinga's season was cut short by an ACL tear on December 11 in a game against the Detroit Lions. He received surgery for the injury on December 26, and participated in the August 2006 training camp. Though some athletes who suffer this particular injury never regain their former speed or mobility, doctors who performed surgery on Poppinga and those working on his rehabilitation were optimistic about his chances for a full recovery.
Poppinga won a starting job despite limited action in training camp due to his continuing rehabilitation from injury. He played at strong side linebacker in the 2006 season opener, alongside fellow linebackers Nick Barnett and A.J. Hawk.
In his fifth start of the season, during a 27-20 loss to the Chicago Bears on October 7, 2007 Poppinga intercepted a Brian Griese pass in the fourth quarter, extending the streak of at least one Packer interception per game for the 11th consecutive game. This matched the longest streak in team history, which occurred during an 11-game stretch in 1984-1985.
On July 24, 2008, the Packers signed Poppinga to an five-year $17 million extension that runs through the 2012 season. Poppinga was scheduled to make $927,000 in 2008 under the terms of the four-year deal he signed in 2005. According to his agent four years were added beyond this year.
In 2008 Poppinga played all 16 games with 12 starts and recorded 68 tackles.