Hopkins competitive nature sets him apart
CLEMSON — Records don’t mean much to DeAndre Hopkins.
Clemson’s prolific junior wide receiver has set a number of impressive program marks this season – most receptions in a single game (13), most single-game receiving yards (197, since broken by Sammy Watkins with 202), most receiving touchdowns in a season (13), most receiving touchdowns in a career (22) and most 100-yard receiving games in a career (11).
He’s on track for another major record Saturday against Maryland. With 82 receiving yards, Hopkins can become the Tigers’ all-time leading receiver. He currently has 2,652 receiving yards, third behind Aaron Kelly (2,733) and his late uncle, Terry Smith (2,681).
Those numbers, however, aren’t important to him.
“I really don’t think too much about that, man,” Hopkins said following last Saturday’s 56-20 win at Duke. “My goal is always team goals, , winning a championship, stuff like that. Self-goals come last. They’ll happen if you work hard and put in the work.”
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said Hopkins’ rise has been marked by constant, consistent play.
“If you go back and track Nuk Hopkins’ career from Central Rec to Edwards Middle to Daniel High to here, it’s the exact same story,” Swinney said this week. “He’s a great player. Incredibly consistent his entire life. He’s made the adjustment at every level he’s gone to. He’s made the adjustment here mentally and physically, he’s always had great talent, but the thing that makes him great is he’s such a great competitor. Just loves to play, loves to practice, loves to catch the ball, loves to win.”
Individual accolades, Swinney said, are not important.
“ He’s a team guy, very unselfish, doesn’t say a whole lot, but he’s got a ton of confidence,” Swinney said. “I’m just really proud of the season he’s put together, the career he’s put together, he’s worked really hard. It has not come easy. He’s worked his tail off developing himself, mentally and physically.”
A solid connection with Tajh Boyd helps, too. The two have matured in Clemson’s offense together; Boyd’s first career touchdown went to Hopkins in 2010.
“Me and Tajh have great chemistry, we’ve been together since my freshman year,” Hopkins said. “We kind of know where each other is going to be, and when the ball’s going to be there. It’s timing. It comes with practice, and practice makes perfect.”
Consistent Catanzaro: This week, Clemson junior kicker Chandler Catanzaro was named as one of 20 semifinalists for the Lou Groza Award, given to the nation’s top collegiate kicker. It might have surprised some who watched him struggle through an up-and-down freshman season, but not Swinney.
Catanzaro recently finished a streak of 20 consecutive made field goals dating back to last November, the longest streak in Clemson history.
“I said something that year that I kind of went out on a limb and made a comment after his year, we were going out and we were going to sign a kicker (Ammon Lakip), but that didn't mean that I didn't believe in Catanzaro,” Swinney said this week “In fact I thought he would turn out to be one of the most consistent kickers that we've had here at Clemson, and people looked at me like I had four eyeballs at the time.
“But it was easy to say that because of the work ethic that he has. He's a mentally tough guy. Now, some kickers you get around these guys, and boy, they can be not as mentally tough as you want them to be. But this guy is -- he's got a football mentality, he's an athlete and a great competitor, and all he did was go back to work, and he's just been tremendous, absolutely tremendous. He's the all-time most accurate guy here beyond 40 yards, he's set the record here, he's got an incredible streak, I think 20 in a row. But he's a weapon. That's what he is. He's really become a real weapon for us, just like Sammy Watkins. He's a playmaker, and we've got a lot of confidence in him. “
As Catanzaro struggled, Swinney saw the potential.
“It was an incredibly difficult year for us because we just could not score that year,” Swinney said. “We moved the ball very effectively but we couldn't get it in the end zone and we couldn't make the kicks, and it seemed like the closer we were, the worse we were from a field goal percentage.
“But I just really believed in him because of what I'd seen in practice, and he just hadn't quite transferred it, and it was just a tough freshman year, and it wasn't all him. We had snapping issues and holding issues, and it was everything involved.”
Now, the junior is almost automatic, especially inside 40 yards.
“When we get anywhere down in there, anywhere near that red zone area, hey, we have got points, and it gives your team a lot of confidence,” Swinney said. “And it also allows your quarterback to have a mentality of listen, let's be smart here, because that was one of the things that happened his freshman year, all of a sudden our quarterback, everybody gets frustrated because he couldn't make a kick and now you start taking chances you shouldn't take and you're turning it over, and it's just not a good situation.
“It's been good to see him grow, and I'm happy for him. It's a well deserved honor for him to be a finalist for the Groza Award, and I hope he wins it.”