TALLAHASSEE — Florida State sophomore kicker Dustin Hopkins has never pulled out the cassette tapes and relived some of college football's most famous — or infamous — field-goal attempts.
"I know the history," he said.
So often in the past two decades, the annual FSU-Miami showdown has come down to a last-minute kick. So often, the kick has gone astray, sometimes by inches, and more often vexing the Seminoles than the Hurricanes.
"I refuse to watch the videos just because I don't want to have a mental image of that going into a game," Hopkins said as the No. 23-ranked Seminoles (4-1, 2-0) renew who their rivalry against No. 13 Miami (3-1, 1-0) on Saturday night at Sun Life Stadium.
He takes a different view of history.
While some prattle on about FSU kickers who are remembered solely for a miss against Miami, he has focused on living up to the lofty standards set by FSU kickers such as Scott Bentley, Sebastian Janikowski and Graham Gano.
Bentley, who graced the cover of Sports Illustrated before he played a down at FSU, lived up to the hype as a freshman in 1993 by hitting the big field goals against Nebraska as the Seminoles won their first national title. Janikowski helped power the Seminoles to the 1999 championship, won the Groza Award as the nation's top kicker in 1998 and 1999 and was a first-round NFL draft pick. Gano won the Groza in 2008 and is in his second season with the Washington Redskins.
Hopkins looks to be in that mold.
In person and on tape.
He has hit 7 of 9 field goals this season, missing a 34-yarder in the blowout win against BYU and a 51-yarder against Wake Forest, and has made all 22 of his extra-point attempts.
Just as important, he has boomed 19 of 33 kickoffs for touchbacks. The other 11 ACC teams have a combined 29 touchbacks.
"Dustin Hopkins has the leg of 10 men," linebacker and special teams standout Mister Alexander said.
Even when a team returns one, he has so much hang time that FSU's speedy special teamers have a chance to stop the play cold.
"You have no idea. … You don't understand how that affects play calling," FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said of opponents having to drive the length of the field. "He's a great weapon for us."
You could build a compelling case for Hopkins as the team MVP at this point. That's certainly different for a kicker, but then Hopkins, 20, is different from most kickers. Or at least the image many fans have of kickers.
He grew up in Houston as a soccer star, but he also played baseball until his sophomore year, basketball as a freshman and ran track as a junior and senior. In football at Clear Lake High, he was the nation's top-rated placekicker and a USA Today first-team All-American and also started in the secondary.
"He's an extremely good athlete," Fisher said. "The guy runs 4.5. He can jump. He can dunk a basketball backwards."
A couple weeks ago against Wake Forest, he raced down the field after booming the ball to the goal line and tackled Michael Campanaro at the 20.
"He's not scared to hit anyone," said FSU sophomore running back Lonnie Pryor, Hopkins' roommate.
And despite a genteel, happy-go-lucky demeanor, Hopkins is as tough as any football player. When he was 15 years old, he pulled his hamstring off his hip bone while playing soccer and was essentially sidelined for nine months. When he came back, the only thing he could do was kick.
"It still hurt, but I could push through it," he said. "So I tried to get better at that."
After eschewing Notre Dame for FSU, he stepped in and won the starting job. He hit 19 of 27 field goals and 40 of 44 extra points for 97 points, the most by an FSU freshman.
Not that he was satisfied. In the offseason, he zealously attacked the weight room in an attempt to improve and prove something about himself to the freakish athletes around him.
"I tried to outwork everybody," he said, mentioning that Bentley, Janikowski and Gano, who also handled the punting duties, were all athletically gifted.
It's paying off for him and the Seminoles.
"You can see he's had a big improvement from last year to this year," Gano said. "Dustin has the opportunity to be the third (Groza Award winner) and leave as one of the best kickers they ever had there."
Load that tape.
Brian Landman can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3347.