Hopewell now a special teams specialist

September 30, 2003|MIKE MARSEE

LEXINGTON - Andrew Hopewell seldom shows up in box scores or highlight reels any more. But he still shows up to play every Saturday.

He doesn't play much, but he does what he is asked to do to the best of his ability.

Hopewell has become a special-teams specialist at Kentucky, becoming an integral part of the kickoff and punt teams. That's where he has played in all 16 games since he joined the Wildcats as a walk-on before last season.

He is the leading tackler among those who play exclusively on special teams with six stops, including four solos, which is one more than he had in all of last season.

"I'm very proud of it," he said. "But it's not just me, it's the people around me, too. Everybody's in on the tackles."


Hopewell is often one of the first players seen flying down the field on kickoffs, and he said there's little he enjoys more than seeking out an opponent to hit or trying to set up a Kentucky return.

"It's a blast," he said. "I've always said since high school that kickoff is my favorite play. You get to run down there and don't think about what you're doing, and the crowd is really into it."

Hopewell said he's a little more into than he was a year ago.

"Last year was a little different," he said. "I didn't really realize how the speed of the game is. After that year, I see what's happening, and I can tell if a return is happening right off the bat."

Freshman walk-ons rarely get on the field at major-college programs, but Hopewell was thrown into action right at the start of last season. For that, he said, he will be forever grateful to Mark Nelson, the special teams coach on Guy Morriss' staff.

"He gave me a shot on kickoffs, so my hat's off to him," Hopewell said.

Hopewell kept his job when Rich Brooks replaced Morriss and Steve Ortmayer replaced Nelson. And he said he has also enjoyed working with Ortmayer.

Hopewell said practicing to be effective on special teams involves an awareness of where the ball is going so that you can set up a block for your return man or avoid an opponent's block.

"Other than that, you try to outrun the man across from you," he said. "It's having more heart than the other guy and trying to beat him."

In search of a good hit

Hopewell is always in search of a good hit, and he said he's still looking for his first one this season. But he is proud of a move he made on a punt in the season-opening game against Louisville.

"I made three people miss on the wedge," he said.

Hopewell didn't get a good hit in on any of Kentucky's four kickoffs against Florida. Three of them went for touchbacks thanks to the strong leg of kicker Clint Ruth.

"That's one thing that helps us on kickoffs," he said. "Clint worked hard in the off-season working on his hang time, and that helps out down there."

Hopewell said there's a part of him that hopes at least some of Ruth's kickoffs are returnable.

"I'll usually go up to Clint and whisper, 'Put it in the end zone,' but in the back of my mind I'm hoping he kicks it about two yards deep with good hang time on it," Hopewell said.

Hopewell also would like another chance to carry the ball. He's listed as a running back on the roster, but his only appearance at that position came last year in Kentucky's 77-17 pasting of UTEP, when he carried the ball twice for 21 yards and a touchdown.

"I would like to," he said. "I'd like to get a shot at it. But for now I know my spot, my place."

It's a far different place than Hopewell was in at Danville High School when he helped the Admirals win 27 of 30 games and two Class A championships in his two seasons. He had 689 yards rushing, 158 yards receiving and 54 yards passing and scored 16 touchdowns during the 2001 season.

But it's more than some thought he would be doing at Kentucky.

"Some people at Danville were saying I'd never touch the field, and that was a big motivation for me," he said.

Mike Marsee can be reached at

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