TAMPA — When Derrick Hopkins won the Big East indoor track titles in the 60 meters and 200 meters this past weekend, he became the first USF athlete to win both and the first from any Big East school to do so in at least a decade.
Hopkins, quick but tiny at 5 feet 5, 155 pounds, is a backup receiver on the football team, and the Big East is used to having football players from its Florida schools dominate sprints. Hopkins' personal-best time of 6.77 seconds is all the more impressive when you compare him with 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. Of those, Johnson was the only one to win a Big East title. 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, 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 4x100-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 flight to Akron, Ohio, at 8 a.m. Friday, but two hours earlier, he attended a winter conditioning workout. Holtz didn't make him run, of course, but wanted him to be there for the camaraderie.
"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 remain in good shape. Being able to balance sports and classwork in just their second year 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.
This and that: Former Bucs coach Jon Gruden, now an NFL analyst with ESPN, will be the keynote speaker at Holtz's annual coaches clinic, March 24-26. … DT Terrell McClain will be USF's lone representative at the NFL combine workouts in Indianapolis, starting Friday. A strong showing could solidify McClain's position as a potential second-round pick or better. … In addition to the spring football game April 2 at Raymond James Stadium, Holtz will have a "Green and Gold Bowl" open scrimmage for students and fans at the track stadium April 9.