Vaught's Views: Hopewell has a knack for making big plays

November 03, 2003|LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON - He might not get on the field often, but when he does Andrew Hopewell has the same knack for making big plays at the University of Kentucky that he did at Danville.

Hopewell made the biggest play of his Kentucky career Saturday on ESPN2 when he blocked a punt and returned it 14 yards for a touchdown against Arkansas. If Kentucky had not lost the game 71-63 in seven overtimes, his block might have been the play of the game.

"It was a huge play. We had nothing going," Kentucky coach Rich Brooks said. "We were not being very productive. His block gave us life."

That's more than a second-year walk-on player is supposed to provide. Yet there was Hopewell easily outmaneuvering a blocker to make the play that tied the game 7-7 late in period one.


Hopewell had partially blocked a kick two weeks earlier against Ohio University that sparked the Cats in that win.

"I told some players on the sidelines that I was going to block it and take it to the end zone," Hopewell said. "That's exactly what happened."

He knew he would have a chance because of Arkansas' concern about UK return specialist Derek Abney. He said the Razorbacks correctly read which way UK was going to return punts and then basically quit blocking on the other side of the line. That made it easy for Hopewell to get help from teammate Deion Holts to fool the one blocker on their side and get a clear path to the punter.

"I was right there. I felt like I had to slow down to block it," Hopewell said. "I remember it hitting my face and hands. It hit me hard. Luckily when I looked down, it was right there and was easy to pick up and take into the end zone. I was close to losing my balance. I probably got a little too excited. But I knew nothing could go wrong, so I just took a chance on scooping it up and going to the end zone."

It was his second touchdown at Kentucky. Last year, he became the first true freshman walk-on ever to score at UK when he ran for a score against Texas-El Paso.

He was also part of Abney's NCAA record-tying punt return for a score against Mississippi State as he helped push Abney the final few yards into the end zone. But his biggest play was the one against Arkansas.

"His brother, (senior receiver) Dan, made a big tackle on the kickoff team late in the game (against Arkansas)," Brooks said. "This is his last year, and we gave him a scholarship because we had some available. If Andrew keeps doing what he's been doing, and if we have extra scholarships, he'll get one. He's undersized and doesn't have the most speed, but he just keeps making a lot of plays."

That's what he kept doing when he helped Danville win Class A state titles in 2000 and 2001. That knack is why he decided to play at Kentucky, where his father, Dave, was a starting center on UK's standout 1976 and 1977 teams.

"This game is going to be one I'll always remember. It will be an ESPN classic," Hopewell said. "This game will rank No. 1 on my list. I remember the playoff game against Bardstown my junior year and the comeback we had at Mayfield my senior year.

"I just wish we had won this game like we did those two in high school. We get close, but we can't pull it off at the end. It's not coaching. It's up to the players to pull it out."

Which would be a lot easier if more players had the same knack for making big plays that Hopewell does.

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