Hopkins measuring up


Despite is size, JUCO transfer Jasmin Hopkins has made a career out of proving doubters wrong.

By Chris Dertz

Tell a man he can’t do something, and he’ll stop at nothing to prove you wrong.

Tell a player he’s too short or too skinny, and it only throws fuel on the fire.

For Jasmin Hopkins, that’s always been the story.

Critics told the NIU tailback, who was 5-feet-7-inches and 150 pounds coming out of high school, that he was too small to play high-level football.

“Always being the one who’s ‘too little, too short’ makes you want go out and work harder and prove everybody wrong,” said the Stanley, N.C. native.

This tenacious attitude has stuck with Hopkins, called simply “Jas,” throughout his journey from prep school to Fort Scott Community College, and landing at NIU this season.

To hear Hopkins’ side of the story, it was largely his JUCO coach, Fort Scott’s Jeff Sims, that instilled qualities of “don’t quit, always fight for what you want” into his life.

While Sims can’t say enough about Hopkins as both a player and person, he makes it clear that Jas came to Fort Scott with those qualities in tow.

What Hopkins didn’t have, however, was a standout first impression.

“He’s not a guy that comes out and wows you the first day,” Sims said. “He is an every day ‘I’m going to outlast you, I’m going to out-work you’ type of person. By no means did we ever think that Jas would be at the level he is today, the first day we got him here.”

That tenaciousness and willingness to improve led Hopkins to be named the JUCO offensive player of the year last season, and has landed him on NIU’s roster for his final two collegiate seasons.

The junior was courted by a lot of coaches while at Fort Scott. Something stood out about NIU’s coaching staff, though.

A tight-knit group of lower-level coaches in the state of Kansas, where Fort Scott is located, has a good rapport with NIU head coach Jerry Kill and his staff.

It was Kill’s Kansas reputation that helped Sims guide Hopkins to the Huskies.

“I felt like [NIU’s coaching staff] weren’t throwing me any lies,” Hopkins said. “They run the ball a lot, and everything fits my style.”

While NIU’s running game seems like Hopkins’ bread and butter, it was more than just a scheme that allowed Kill and company to lure Jas to DeKalb.

Sims calls NIU’s staff “one of the hardest working coaching staffs to come through” Fort Scott’s offices.

But a willingness to accept a player and put faith in him is just one of the benefits the Huskies’ staff provides to Hopkins.

“When Coach Kill is standing up in front of the team giving a life lesson, Jasmin’s listening, and that’s half the battle,” Sims said. “Most guys, it goes in one ear and out the other. Jas takes things to heart. He tries to learn from them and he tries to get better.”

Hopkins has been learning well enough to already see duty on kickoff returns, and grab 20 carries for 120 yards on the season.

With four other productive rushing options on the offense, giving Hopkins the ball early shows that this NIU staff has faith in Hopkins’ ability to keep developing.

“When you get junior college kids, for the most part they’re pretty driven,” said NIU offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover. “Coach Kill says you can’t judge a junior college kid until about halfway through their full season.”

That makes it a bit early to start judging Hopkins’ performance, but his tenacious work ethic has both Sims and Limegrover feeling optimistic about his future.

“I think he can do everything he did at junior college,” Limegrover said.

Sims added that he believes “the sky’s the limit” for Hopkins at the Division I level.

If his detractors have anything to say about it, Jas will make sure that’s the case.