NEDERLAND – Running backs all have distinctive running styles. Some, like NFL Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson, run tall and with grace down the field, almost gliding into the end zone. Others, like Nederland junior Kendrick Hopkins, run with a physicality and aggressiveness that can turn a 1-yard gain into a 10-yard run.
Hopkins has been showing off his particular brand of running every Friday for Nederland, and it all culminated in Friday night’s victory over Livingston, when Hopkins rushed for 209 yards and a touchdown. He’s the first Bulldog back to top 200 yards since Warrel Grogan rolled up 220 against C.E. King in 2008
“He gets hard yards,” Nederland head coach Larry Neumann said. “He knows how to get small in there. He won’t outrun people like (LC-M’ s Alex Sezer), but he’ll run over you. He’s durable and he runs hard. I’m real pleased with his progress this year.
“He doesn’t get thrown back much and he doesn’t get stopped easily. I don’t know if anyone can take credit for that stuff. That’s an internal toughness that they have to have, innate ability, body lean and timing. You have to hit the guy at the right time to get the leverage to make some extra yardage.”
The junior may have good enough vision to make decisive cuts during zone plays, like he did on a 46-yard run against Livingston. But, he says his strength is what’s evident in watching him run: the first man to hit him rarely brings him down.
“It’s a mindset,” Hopkins said. “The first guy should never bring you down. You should always run through arm tackles. One person should never be able to tackle you. That’s the way I was raised. We’re taught here at Nederland not to dance in the backfield. We’re not going to sugar coat it. We’re going to go straight through you.”
His name may be familiar to Nederland fans, as Kendrick played with his brother Korey last season. Korey was a senior while Kendrick was a sophomore last season.
“I had my brother last year,” Hopkins said. “It was always my dream to play with him. It helped me work harder, playing on varsity as a sophomore. I talk to him every day, before the game, after pep rallies. I ask him for advice, and he gives me some great tips. He’s always going to be there for me.”
But, his filial connections are the only reason why Hopkins may be familiar to fans. Against West Orange-Stark in the first game of the 2011 season, Hopkins caught and converted the two-point conversion that gave Nederland a 15-14 victory over the Mustangs at Lamar’s Provost-Umphrey Stadium.
“I was just thinking about catching the ball,” Hopkins said. “For some reason, I couldn’t catch a ball all season. I know I can catch, but for some reason, I had problems. I made sure I saw the ball all the way in. It was almost in slow motion. I was just like, ‘Oh, gosh, don’t drop it.’ As soon as I caught it, I fell down. Luckily I was in the end zone. Barely.”
Still, Hopkins’ role on this year’s team was far from certain. Last season, Hopkins was the backup to fullback Brett Brown, but he played a lot because of various injuries Brown suffered during the season. This year, the Bulldog coaching staff was going to switch him to tailback, but wasn’t sure who would take the job heading into the fall.
“My first recollection of his potential was in ninth grade,” Neumann said. “He was a difference maker with the freshman football. That’s when I thought he might develop into something special. We knew (Kendrick’s) capabilities. There was a lot of unproven stuff that he has proven with his play early this year. He showed us early the ability to get the hard yards and really be our ‘marquee’ running back for us.
“Going into the season, we were thinking more by committee. But, since he’s brought so much, we’ve been able to pick our spots more with guys like Zach Taylor.”
For Hopkins, his job status being uncertain just drove him to work harder.
“My goal was that if I wanted to play,” Hopkins said, “I had to go out and get it. We are not guaranteed anything. Anyone can move in and take your spot. I wanted to stay here, keep my spot and work, work, work. I’ve still got to work hard to keep it, even though I’m there now. I am constantly striving to be the best.”
There are still some things he needs to work on, like pass blocking. Neumann says it’s something the coaching staff needs to help him improve, along with all the running backs.
“We want to continue to work on his blocking,” Neumann said. “He’s got the ability to be a good blocker, run or pass. I think sometimes he’s not real certain about who to block. I’ll take the blame for that, because that’s what you practice for. No matter how you draw it up, on the grass, people get in different areas.
“You think you’re blocking one guy pre-snap, and then it’s another guy who comes to you. All you need is a little indecision to block not as well as you can. But, all you need to fix that is more reps.”
One thing Hopkins can’t control is his scoring opportunities. Though Hopkins is third in the district in rushing yards, with 585 yards on 98 carries, he has just one TD. Hopkins said he’s teased Carson Raines’ about vulturing his scoring carries, as Raines has scored five rushing TDs this season, but it’s all in good fun. The real goal is always about the team winning games.
“My favorite moment was scoring my first touchdown,” Hopkins said. “Being all happy and giving my offensive line high fives, that was great. I gave Carson a hard time, but you can’t be selfish. It’s a team sport. That’s the way it happens.”
BULLDOG BITES: The son of Brady Hopkins and Rene Jackson, Kendrick is on pace to rush for 1,170 yards this regular season. Last year, Troy Benjamin led Nederland with 1,066 rushing yards in the first 10 games. … In Friday’s game against Livingston, The News incorrectly identified Michael Shaw as throwing a TD pass to Zach Taylor. It was actually Seth Barrow who made the throw and connected on his first career TD pass. … This week’s trip to LC-M put Nederland in the middle of a stretch of four road games in five weeks. The Bulldogs had a road game against Angleton before their bye and then played Vidor on the road before hosting Livingston. They will play at LC-M this week and at PN-G the following week before returning home for Beaumont Ozen. … Nederland remained ranked No. 8 in the AP state football poll released Monday. The Bulldogs have been ranked in the Top 10 since the second week of the season.
Five Questions with Kendrick Hopkins
What is your favorite NFL Team? Houston Texans
What is your favorite college? Alabama
What is your favorite color? Red
What is your best high school memory? Playing football with my brother Korey
If you could play another position, what would it be? Lineman or defensive end