Tuesday, November 15, 2011
Younger Hopkins holding defensive line for Hokies
DT Derrick Hopkins is filling in nicely after brother Antoine suffered a season-ending injury.
The Roanoke Times | File September
Virginia Tech defensive tackle Derrick Hopkins (98) has 37 tackles this season, including five for a loss, and three sacks.
The Roanoke Times | File April
Virginia Tech defensive tackle Antoine Hopkins (56) was lost for the season after suffering an ACL injury in the Hokies' loss to Clemson last month.
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BLACKSBURG -- When the Hokies lost defensive tackle Antoine Hopkins to a season-ending knee injury last month, many wondered how his younger brother and fellow tackle, Derrick, would fare in his absence.
Virginia Tech's coaches and players didn't.
"He really hasn't missed a beat," defensive line coach Charley Wiles said. "He's gotten better."
Derrick, who is two years Antoine's junior, has stepped up his game without his brother by his side, becoming an anchor as a sophomore on a defensive line lacking experienced players on the interior.
He earned the coaches award following the Hokies' 37-26 win at Georgia Tech on Thursday, teaming with J.R. Collins to provide the necessary push up the middle to disrupt the Yellow Jackets' dive option. Derrick finished with a career-high nine tackles.
"He's played well every week, to be honest with you," defensive coordinator Bud Foster said. "He's really turning into a pretty special football player."
The Hopkins brothers were a hot story -line in August, the latest in Virginia Tech's long line of brothers to play at the same time. They played side-by-side as starting tackles, just as they had done for two years at Highland Springs High School outside of Richmond.
But Antoine's season was cut short by an ACL tear against Clemson in Week5, leaving Derrick without that fraternal guidance on the field.
Derrick has thrived, however. He has 37 tackles this year, with five tackles for a loss and three sacks - numbers that are nearly identical to the player he replaced, John Graves, a second-team All-ACC pick last year.
At 6 feet and 301 pounds, Derrick can hold the line. He's the school record holder in the front squat and is among the best in the push jerk, making him a load to move in the middle.
"His lower-body strength is through the roof," Wiles said.
The game has never overwhelmed him. Unlike Antoine, who began to emerge as a player in 10th grade, Derrick was a football star from the start.
He started as a ninth-grader in high school, playing two years beside his older brother and two years on his own before signing with Virginia Tech in 2010.
"He's always had his own path as far as football," Antoine said. "Back in the day, people would call him 'Big D.' Big guy, aggressive, knowledgeable of the game. ... He looked up to me, but at the same time, he was doing his own stuff."
The brothers, who are roommates and, as you'd imagine, spitting images of each other, have different personalities, both on and off the field.
While Antoine is more outgoing, Derrick, as Wiles noted, "is not necessarily a big conversationalist. ... He can sit in a room and you wouldn't know it."
On the field, however, Derrick has a higher gear than most.
"Not that Antoine wasn't a highly motivated guy," Foster said, "but Derrick's got just another motor, a little different."
The two get along famously. There's no sibling rivalry in the Hopkins household.
"Our dad always wanted us to be like real brothers," Derrick said. "Some brothers fuss at each other, fight with each other. My dad didn't want us to do that. He wanted us to be closer and talk to each other."
Antoine is a readily available source of advice, whether it's regarding alignments or technique. It's a way for him to stay connected during a six-month rehab stint for his injured knee, one that will probably keep him from going full speed this spring.
Does Derrick ask him much about the rehab work?
"Not really. He's living, so as long as he's alive, he'll be fine," Derrick joked, his brother sitting right behind him. "He knows what he has to do to get back."
When he does, the Hopkins brothers will be starting next to each other once again.
Said Antoine: "Can't wait."