|by David Hood|
Hopkins turned in a special season, catching 69 passes for 1,214 yards in the regular season, and then capping his career with perhaps his best game, catching 13 passes for 191 yards and two touchdowns in Clemson’s bowl win over LSU.
Despite those great numbers, however, Hopkins said the decision to turn pro wasn’t an easy one.
“It wasn’t an easy process at all. It was a decision that I felt was best for me and my family,” Hopkins said Wednesday. “Clemson has given me all of the opportunities to succeed in life, not just football. In my time, I felt like I've accomplished all I want to accomplish, on and off the field, from a maturity standpoint. I felt that I've grown. That's what I came to school to do, to grow as a person, not just as a football player. I feel like Clemson has given me all the opportunities possible to succeed in life”
It was a process that started with his pre-season goals and was helped by the bowl game performance.
“It was something that was leading up to it,” he said. “At the beginning of the year, I set a goal to play so that I could set myself up to be able to make a decision at the end of the year and I don’t feel like that’s a bad scenario. After the bowl game, I feel like it really set up for me to help my decision to leave.”
Hopkins then said that going out on his own terms, with the 4th-and-16 catch on the game-winning drive, added to his feeling of accomplishment as a Tiger.
“I would say the 4th-and-16 catch [is his best memory]. That was incredible. It was a great feeling,” he said. “I couldn’t picture going out any better than to catch a 4th-and-16 pass to lead the drive to win the game. I knew I had it. I knew Tajh was either going to come to me or Brandon Ford. I looked at the film and Adam Humphries was running down the field wide open so I was like, ‘dang, he was coming this way from the get go.’ I knew I had to make a play. I capitalized.”
Once he made his decision, he threw everything he had in preparing for the NFL Combine, his Pro Day at Clemson and making sure teams were getting a finished product.
“It’s been hectic. It’s supposed to be kind of a chill situation, but I’ve been working out as hard as these guys in here,” he said. “I trained in Florida as soon as I left. I probably had four days rest after the bowl game before I went to train for the combine. After that, we had pro day, which was this week. Now I’m training for doing stuff for teams- individual workouts and stuff like that. It’s been a hectic process- mentally challenging process.”
His driving force has been the feeling that he has always been overlooked – from his high school days to his freshman year at Clemson to being overshadowed by Sammy Watkins his sophomore year, Hopkins felt like he always had people who doubted him.
And it drove him.
“I kinda felt coming out of high school, I wasn’t a five star prospect that everyone had high on the roster to do great things. The way I set myself up, I feel like I over achieved,” he said. “To me personally, it’s not proving people wrong if I go in the first round. It’s just money. I feel like it’s a personal challenge. If you’re doing that, you’re not worried about what people are saying. If I go third or second round everybody has an opinion. It’s what makes us human beings.”
Hopkins said he is hearing that he is destined for the second round – which he is fine with – and isn’t hearing from any particular team.
“Not really any team more than another. They don’t really call me,” he said. “I worked out for the Panthers and that’s the only individual workout I’ve had so far. “
On the talent that comes from the Clemson area
“I feel like we’ve got more talent here in this 20 mile radius than any other place- Jarvis Jenkins, Terry Smith, DeShawn Williams, Shaq Lawson and guys that went to other colleges. The talent here is unbelievable. Growing up in the country is different than the city because in the country you go out and play football in the back yard. If you get glass in your feet, then oh well- you keep playing and stitch it up. It’s amazing the talent we have here and even the guys that haven’t the opportunity because of bad decisions. There’s plenty of guys that should be here coming out of Central and Clemson. It’s amazing. I would say genetics, but it’s so many families here that have it. It’s just culture and coaches, and rec.”
On his beginnings
“My first sport was baseball at the age of eight. After that it was football and then basketball. My agent had to tell me not to play basketball. Now I have to go out and kick the soccer ball with some friends. It’s crazy. I thought I was going to be an NBA star one day, honestly. I played against guys that are in the NBA and I stood up well against them. In my mind, coming out of high school I was thinking, ‘why can’t I be there?’ I’m happy I stuck with football. It was a great decision.”
On what’s ahead for Clemson
“We were definitely on the verge of something great. I felt like me staying or going, I felt like we could win the national championship with the guys we have here. I felt like I’ve done all I could do here. I’ve achieved every goal that I set for myself- won a championship, two if you count us tying with FSU this year. I feel like I’ve accomplished a lot here both personally and from a team aspect.”
On wanting to graduate
“I wanted to graduate. That was my main thing. I’m going to graduate. If we were 4-7 and I had 1,500 yards, I wanted to graduate. That was a key part for me wanting to come back. I’ve got two semesters or close to that.”
Who helped him make his decision
“There wasn’t one person. My mother- I talk to her every day. My mother and my sister, we just talked about it every day. I prayed about it every day.”
On why he didn’t talk to the press after his Pro Day, especially after a local newspaper columnist and another Clemson website blasted him for not doing so
“I don’t know. That’s a good question. I don’t mind talk to you guys. I like y’all. It wasn’t initiated by me. One of y’all reporters had a problem and said that I kind of ignored y’all after pro day. I’m sorry if you felt like that. There were reasons for it, but I’m not really sure.”
His quest to be the best and his personal rivalry with Watkins
“That was a key part of my motivation. Seeing somebody else succeed is always great, but you want to be that person. My mindset is always that I want to be the best. If it’s holding the snap for the field goal kicker, I want to be the best. I felt like I wanted to be the best wide receiver. Sammy felt the same way. That’s the key part to our success last season was us going at it everyvday trying to be the best. That’s like my little brother and I’m his big brother so it’s fun going out there and competing. We might joke about it during the game, we might joke about it. He’d have a touchdown and say, ‘you better step it up or I’m gonna run away with this.’ Or I’d do the same. It’s a fun situation. If Tajh had another Tajh competing with him, people would be saying that Clemson has the greatest quarterbacks at both of them would be great. It’s a competitive environment.”
On who DeAndre Hopkins really is
“A very honest person that is down to earth, who puts his heart into anything that he puts his mind to. It doesn’t matter- somebody who is determined to succeed in life.”
On his relationship with Watkins
“The bond we built here will last a lifetime. He will be in my wedding and I’ll be in his. He is definitely in for a big year, but not just him- this whole team is. They have so many offensive weapons that it’s ridiculous.”
David Hood can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org