Before a game, Trey Hopkins doesn’t dance around listening to music, pour over film or even ham it up with his teammates. Instead, Hopkins sits calmly next to his locker, jamming to the latest Pandora mix and centering himself for the upcoming battle in the trenches.
“The biggest thing is to just block out everything else,” Hopkins said. “I just need a little noise to block everything out and let me focus on my thoughts.”
Those thoughts are pretty deep, too. Hopkins, a junior studying to become an anesthesiologist, is widely considered to be one of the most intelligent players on the team. He was an Academic All-Big 12 first team selection in 2011 and graduated sixth of 947 students in his high school class.
This brain power transfers well to the field. Hopkins picks up schemes quickly and fully comprehends the technical aspects of the blocking assignments. That skill allowed Hopkins to transfer seamlessly to left guard this season after starting all 13 games last year at right tackle. He’s performing well enough that he earned best offensive lineman of the game honors for Saturday’s New Mexico contest, just a week after he pancaked six Wyoming Cowboys.
But Hopkins still thinks he has a ways to go to fully adjust to the position change.
“It’s a big change to me,” Hopkins said. “I bet there’s plenty of better players where it isn’t a big deal as it is to me, but it’s just different changing your technique and putting that other hand down. It’s especially different in pass protection with the drop back and the pull and lift.”
Hopkins may not give himself enough credit, though. Head coach Mack Brown has seen massive improvement from him, and Hopkins said himself that he feels more comfortable on the right side.
As a key cog of a quickly improving offensive line, Hopkins’ personality brings balance to a diverse group. He and fellow junior Mason Walters serve as the elder statesmen and the leaders of the O-line — yet their leadership styles could not be more different.
Walters is the ‘in-your-face’ guy. He’s loud, intense and emotional. Jump only two spots over to find Hopkins: a quiet, deep and forward-thinking influence. Both are needed, and Hopkins is happy to stay within himself to be that soothing force in the trenches.
“I’m the calming factor,” Hopkins said. “I let everyone know exactly what’s happening in this game — this is what we need to improve on. I’m not going to give you anything more than that. I’m not going to yell at you, not going to curse you out. I’m just going to let you know what’s going on to make you better.”
His place on the line isn’t lost on Walters, who respects Hopkins’ blend of smarts and athleticism.
“He is a great athlete for an offensive lineman,” Walters said. “But he also has great intelligence and he’s able to bring that out on the football team and it’s just another tool for us to use.”
His success isn’t all based on his thinking ability or his quick feet; he’s also a very goal-centric person who works diligently to improve. Not many players would be able to adjust to the rigors of multiple positions like he has, and his drive allows him to excel.
Hopkins’ weekly routine is a big assist in keeping him focused. Specifically, the goals he sets every Wednesday of the football season.
“On Wednesdays, I get out a piece of paper and write down my goals for the game: what I know, what I’m looking for, what I’m expecting,” Hopkins said. “I just fold it up, put it in my pocket and keep it with me from Wednesday to Saturday and read it about three times.”
The last time Hopkins examines that paper is the moment before he steps out of the tunnel to sprint onto the field. It’s a hectic time, but it’s an important part of his pregame ritual that keeps him centered before entering the slugfest.
It seems to work, too. When he hits the field, Hopkins transforms to an aggressive force. He’s no longer a 6-foot-4-inch, 301-pound, soft-spoken nice guy. Hopkins is now a force plowing through the man in front of him; like all linemen, he enjoys a good pancake.