By Will Vandervort.
By Will Vandervort
DeAndre Hopkins has never liked being in the spotlight. When he was a senior at Daniel High School, he was the star of both the football and basketball teams. But when his teams were making runs at state championships, he turned down interviews that only wanted to focus on him, insisting to only speak about the team.
“My family, we kind of downplay all the hype,” Hopkins said. “We’re real down-to-earth and we don’t let all that stuff bother us or worry about it.
“We just do our jobs, and that’s kind of what I was taught to do.”
Hopkins was the same way at Clemson. Rarely did he speak to the media in his three seasons, though he shattered just about every receiving record. When he was congratulated for being voted on the All-ACC First Team this fall, Hopkins asked, “Why? I didn’t do anything. Tajh did it.”
That is DeAndre Hopkins, always deflecting the praise back to his teammates or team. But tonight, he will not be able to do that. When his name is called by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell from the podium at the Radio City Music Hall in New York, Hopkins will have to talk about himself because he will be a first round draft selection in the 2013 NFL Draft.
Hopkins is expected to be selected at No. 22 by the St. Louis Rams according to many of the so-called experts. The Rams invited Hopkins to St, Louis late last week for a workout and then asked him back again on Monday.
“Nuk is laid back,” says former Clemson wide receiver Henry Guess, who is the assistant director of athletic video services at Clemson. “He doesn’t necessarily like the spotlight. He just goes about his business quietly.
“It’s one of those things. You saw him make all the catches and stuff during the year, but when you look back at the end of the year, you’re like, ‘This guy had 1,400 yards and 18 touchdowns?’ When you think about the season you don’t really see that because he is not out there showboating or talking about it. He just went about his business making the catches. At the end of the game, he has 13 catches for 170 yards and three touchdowns and you like, ‘I don’t remember all that.’
“He just it did it so quietly, you didn’t even notice he was doing that. He was just doing his thing.”
Guess has seen someone like Hopkins once before at Clemson. He remembers an old teammate of his from his playing days that had the same kind of hands and caught everything thrown his way. Like Hopkins, he also did not make a big deal about his accolades, though he was breaking all of Perry Tuttle’s and Jerry Butler’s receiving records at the time.
That player was Hopkins’ uncle, Terry Smith.
“He was a great receiver,” Guess said. “He probably had the best hands on the team. He always ran great routes. He was the guy when I was coming into Clemson that I wanted to emulate because he was always precise. He knew which foot to cut off on when running specific routes whether it was inside or outside. And, he always used his hands. I can’t remember a whole lot of passes that he caught with his body. He was kind of in that same realm of Nuk a little bit.”
When Smith finished his Clemson career in 1993, he left as the school’s all-time leading receiver. Though his record of 162 receptions for 2,681 yards and 15 touchdowns was later broken by Rod Gardner in 2000, he is still considered one of the best wide receivers Clemson has had.
“If Terry played in today’s passing leagues his records would’ve been unbelievable. I never saw him drop a pass in a game or practice,” said former Clemson teammate Harold Coleman.
When Smith played for the Tigers, Clemson was an I-formation team his first three years before switching to the flexbone his senior year. In other words, the Tigers did not throw the football unless they had to and usually when they had to, they looked for Smith.
In 1991, Smith led the ACC in receptions (52) and yards (829) on his way to earning First-Team All-ACC honors for the ACC Champions.
“He had great hands and was smooth,” Guess said. “He always found a way to get open.”
Guess, who has been at Clemson ever since his freshman season in 1991, had not seen anyone with Smith’s hands until Hopkins came to Clemson in 2010. In fact, Guess did not know Hopkins was Smith’s nephew until someone told him, once they did, “It all made sense then. Those hands run in the family,” Guess said.
“I think Nuk probably has better hands than Terry, and I’m not trying to downplay Terry at all because Terry had great hands, but Nuk has better hands than he did.”
Guess, who was a good receiver himself, is still blown away when he thinks back to the first time he saw Hopkins working with the ball machine last summer. It’s the same drill that has made Hopkins a YouTube sensation this draft season.
“I was standing right there the first time he did it, and my mouth just dropped,” Guess said. “I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, especially when he was doing it with just the left hand or the right hand. I have never seen anybody else do that. He was doing it without a whole lot of residence. He just made it look smooth and he made it look easy.”
Smooth and easy, fittingly it’s the way teammates and friends described Hopkins’ and his late uncle’s careers at Clemson. They did it smooth and easy, and they did it without much fanfare, which is just the way they liked it. After all, it is a family thing.