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With offseason work completed, Hopkins needs a football season to reach his dream

By John Henson
Contributing writer

One dream pushed Harlan County running back Demarco Hopkins through endless sets of bench presses, squats, dead lifts and sprints in the days since the 2019 football season ended.

“I want to play Division I football,” said Hopkins when explaining why he endured a non-stop program at Brewer’s Gym at Verda since last season ended in frustration from a broken fibula. Hopkins tried to return for the Bears’ postseason run, but he was unable to play effectively as he had earlier in the season. He rushed for 350 yards on 44 carries in eight games last season, ranking third on the team in rushing, in helping lead HCHS to an 8-4 record and a district runner-up finish that ended with a loss to eventual 4A state champ Johnson Central.

Instead of feeling sorry for himself due to the injury or resting after a long season, Hopkins went to work under the direction of strength and conditioning trainer Brandon Bell. Hopkins’ weight dropped and his strength grew, He improved his bench press from 205 to 265, his dead lift from 465 to 555 and his squad from 275 to 435.

Determined to change from a power back to one who could also win with speed, Hopkins transformed his body from last year’s 255 pounds to a lean and strong 210 pounds going into his senior season.

“It was very intense, very hard, but this is the best shape I’ve ever been in” said Hopkins, as he took a break following a recent practice session at HCHS. “I go six days a week with Brandon, from 3 to about 7. It’s hard, but I want to be at my best. Nobody makes me. I do it because I want to get better and be the best. When I got hurt last year, it made me realize how much I love the game. I want to play college football.”

“Demarco has made significant progress because of his drive, determination, work ethic and discipline,” Bell said. “Demarco follows my progressive overload routine along with my nutritional guide in order to raise his strength levels while consistently building leaner, more explosive muscle fibers. Demarco has exceeded all of my expectations and then some. He will be a great asset and leader to the HCHS football team.”

Reaching that dream isn’t entirely in Hopkins’ control at this point, even with all his work. A final decision is expected on Aug. 20 when the Kentucky High School Athletic Association discusses whether high school football will be played due to coronavirus pandemic concerns. Hopkins knows he probably won’t play college football if he can’t prove himself on the field this fall where coaches can see the new and improved version of himself.

“Demarco has put the time and effort in during the offseason to get his body in phenomenal form. His strength has increased both up top and lower body. He was already hard to tackle as a junior. He will be like a train coming through those holes this season,” Harlan County coach Eddie Creech said. “Up to this point, he hasn’t had the opportunity to be the feature back. I told him if he wanted to play tailback, he needed to drop some weight. He did just that. I plan on feeding him the rock this fall and watch him do his thing.”

Anyone who believes football is a trivial concern in a world shaken by the pandemic has not met the HCHS senior running back and seen his smile change to a look of dread when it’s suggested his senior year could be over before it starts.

“I think we can be really good this year. Most of our seniors have had a lot of success, going back to middle school, and we have some good freshmen,” Hopkins said. “But we just need a chance to play, and I have to be able to play because I need to have a season so I can prove myself to college coaches. It’s the only chance I have to be able to do what I’ve worked for since last season ended. It’s the only chance I have.”