Hopkins shows speed, balance in sprint titles
TAMPA -- When USF's Derrick Hopkins won the Big East indoor track titles in the 60 meters and 200 meters this weekend, he became the first USF athlete to win both titles, and the first from any Big East school in at least a decade.
Hopkins, quick but tiny at 5-foot-5, 155 pounds, is a backup receiver on the Bulls' football team, and the Big East is used to having football players from its Florida schools dominate its sprints. Hopkins' personal-best time of 6.77 seconds is all the more impressive when you compare him to a Pro Bowl lineup of sprinters who represented Miami in the same Big East event when the Hurricanes were in the league.
Devin Hester? 6.82 in 2004. Willis McGahee and Andre Johnson? 6.81 and 6.96 in 2002. Phillip Buchanon? 6.80 in 2001. Clinton Portis ran a 6.93 in 2000, the same year Santana Moss matched Hopkins' time with a 6.77. Hopkins is certainly a smaller runner than those big NFL names, but he's working to make his speed an asset for Skip Holtz's football team.
"It was a lot of hard work put into it, and it always feels good when you put hard work into something and accomplish your goals," said Hopkins, who was part of a state-record 4-by-100-meter relay at Miami's Monsignor Pace High two years ago with two of his current USF football teammates, Kayvon Webster and Sterling Griffin.
Hopkins had to be at USF for the team flight to Akron on Friday at 8 a.m., but two hours earlier, he was in attendance for a winter conditioning workout for football. Holtz didn't make him run, of course, but wanted him to be there for the camaraderie aspect of staying involved with the football team.
"It's always good to be out there with the guys -- it's something I love to do," Hopkins said. "Even though I wasn't participating, I felt like I was a part of it."
USF track coach Warren Bye said Holtz has been amenable to sharing his fastest players, allowing Hopkins and Webster to attend track practice a few days a week as long as their grades are in good shape. Being able to balance both sports and classwork in just their second year on campus is a sign of their maturity as much as their athletic talent, Bye said.
"They've done a really good job of handling that," Bye said. "It shows another year of maturity for them. They're holding up their end with football, and it's challenging for them, but it's good because it means a lot for them to be two-sport athletes."
Hopkins didn't get a catch as a redshirt freshman last fall, but is hopeful he can make an impact this fall, and his track work should only help with his quickness. He was back at football practice Monday, taking congratulations from his teammates for being named the conference's Most Outstanding Track Performer.
He wasn't the only USF athlete with a strong showing in Akron -- Denise von Eynatten won the women's pole vault, setting a meet record with a mark of 14 feet, 1.75 inches, which stands as the sixth-best mark in the country this season.