Hopewell trying to earn playing time

April 14, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON - Despite the success he had as a special teams player last season, Andrew Hopewell feels he can do even more for the University of Kentucky football team.

"I kind of got bored with special teams last year," said Hopewell. "Kickoff (coverage) kind of came easy. You just make one person miss and go bust up a wedge (of blockers). That got easy. Then punt return got kind of easy.

"I would like to play offense. That's a goal for this year, and I think I have a chance to do that. Several players have told me that. I just hope the coaches give me a chance to earn playing time. All I can do is go out, give it my best shot and hope the coaches recognize it."

Hopewell was a running back-linebacker on Danville's 2000 and 2001 Class A state championship teams. He joined the Wildcats as a walk-on player and got two carries for 21 yards, including a 15-yard scoring run against Texas El-Paso, in 2002 and also had an 18-yard kickoff return against Florida.


It was on special teams, though, that Hopewell made his biggest impact. He had five tackles and one fumble recovery.

Last season he blocked two punts, including one he returned for a touchdown against Arkansas. He also made seven tackles and twice was named a game captain because of his special teams play.

Dreams of earning time in the backfield

Yet he still dreams of earning time in the backfield, even though Arliss Beach and Draak Davis are listed ahead of him at tailback this spring and incoming freshman Rafael Little is expected to also challenge for playing time when he arrives.

Hopewell had a 36-yard run to set up a field goal in Saturday's scrimmage and also caught a 13-yard pass.

He's gotten more repetitions in spring practice than he has since joining the Wildcats. He just hopes that translates into a chance to compete for playing time in August.

"Things are a lot different for me this spring as far as maturity and knowing the plays," Hopewell said. "I am a lot more comfortable with the offense as far as reading the linemen and knowing what to do.

"When I came in as a freshman, a lot of people asked me if I was going to play running back. Last year, I think I kind of fell off. I don't know if I didn't push myself or what. But I did pretty well on special teams and a lot of people started calling me the 'special teams specialist.' It was kind of funny, and nice, but I also want to be part of the offense."

He said he's let offensive coordinator Ron Hudson and running backs coach Ron Carragher both know that he wants a "legitimate shot" at playing time.

"I think they are giving me a few more chances in practice, but I still don't know if they are giving me the respect I want yet or not," Hopewell said. "I am getting a lot more reps. They are putting me in more and the coaches are actually coaching me up more.

"Doing well on special teams helped me. I would never have gotten even the shot I am now without doing so well on special teams."

He makes sure the coaches know how much he wants to play

Hopewell has tried to make sure the coaches know just how much he wants to play. He normally asks Carragher after every play what he could have done different, or better.

"Last year, I wouldn't have done that," Hopewell said. "Now he's coaching me and that will make me a better player and also let the coaches see this kid is serious about playing."

He proved that to teammates early in spring drills when he got into a skirmish with linebacker Dustin Williams, who is seven inches taller and 45 pounds heavier than Hopewell.

"He was holding my face mask during a play. I am not going to let anybody do that," Hopewell said. "He's a big guy, a really huge guy. But I can't let anybody do that if I want respect from the players and coaches. I have to let them see this kid is serious and has some tenacity in him and won't back down. That earns respect."

Hopewell knows his special teams role was important for Kentucky last year and hopes he can have the same success on special teams next season.

"You can help a team's morale a lot with good special teams play," Hopewell said.

Still, he yearns for a bigger role in 2004.

"I really don't know what it will take for me to impress the coaches enough to get me a shot at playing time. I am trying to figure that out myself," Hopewell said. "I am trying to do what I've always done - push myself as hard as I can and work hard every play. But I don't know if that is enough. I hope so, but I guess I won't know until August whether it was or not."

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