According to the tackle, the key is having “a good blend” of players that quietly lead by example and those who are more vocal.
“We have some people that are really rowdy, some people who are calm, cool,” Hopkins said. “Antone (Exum), Gayle, Kyle (Fuller)’s starting to get a little rowdy. (Detrick) Bonner, Kyshoen (Jarrett), those guys. It’s really about half. (Maddy) and I, Jack (Tyler), we’re in the zone, but we’re not real loud like that.”
A quiet demeanor isn’t the only thing that Hopkins and Maddy share. The defensive tackles have become like family thanks to their time on the line together.
“I’ve learned a lot from Derrick, he teaches me, he gives me some corrections because we’re somewhat similar in the way we play,” Maddy said. “He brings all the heat, he encourages me to compete every week and we make each other better. He’s a great, great guy.”
Hopkins insists that forming that kind of camaraderie on the defensive line is essential for the unit to play together effectively.
“You’ve got to have a relationship with the guy next to you, you have to have unity,” Hopkins said.
But while the unit as a whole played well last Thursday, it was Hopkins that truly stood out. With a big performance in a nationally televised game, NFL scouts surely took notice of Hopkins, but he’s not thinking about the next level quite yet.
“Not yet,” Hopkins said. “People are talking about it, but I’m trying to finish the year out strong, it’s my last year. My family and my chaplain are always talking about leaving a legacy, so I’m trying to leave a positive legacy when I leave.”
In the meantime, he’s devoting his energy toward facing North Carolina this Saturday.
The Tar Heels thrashed the Hokies 48-34 last year, and the memory still stings for Hopkins.
“We got pounded,” Hopkins said. “(Former running back Giovani) Bernard just ran the ball on us. It’s extra motivation, we’ve just got to keep doing what we’ve been doing and working hard and trying to play consistently.”
The Heels were indeed particularly effective on the ground — the team ran for a total of 339 yards, with 267 coming from Bernard alone.
That’s a result Hopkins just isn’t used to.
“That was the first time somebody ran for more than 300 yards, for me at least,” Hopkins said. “It’s extra motivation a little bit, but we’re going to continue doing what we’ve been doing this year and improve on that to keep getting better.”
Yet, true to form, Hopkins doesn’t let last year’s result affect him too much. Instead, he just approaches it the same way he always does: with a level head.
“I could (take it personally), but I’m just trying to stay calm,” Hopkins said. “You could get mad and try to do too much and things like that, so I try to stay leveled off and go about it the right way.”