CLEMSON — Clemson’s DeAndre Hopkins recoils from attention.
Games: 6Catches: 49 2007)Receiving yards: 777Touchdowns: 8Single-season school recordsCatches: 88 (Aaron Kelly - 2007)Receiving yards: 1,219 (Sammy Watkins - 2011)Touchdown catches: 12 (Sammy Watkins - 2011)
When Hopkins met with the media this week, he anxiously swung his leg and toyed with his Puma sneakers. He said he prefers to let his play speak. He said he’d rather share his thoughts with friends and family.
Hopkins has met with the media four times this season despite ranking second in the nation in receiving yards (777).
The paradox is the better Hopkins plays on the field for No. 14 Clemson, the more attention he receives from reporters and defensive coordinators, like Virginia Tech’s Bud Foster who he’ll meet at noon Saturday at Memorial Stadium (ABC or ESPN2). Hopkins has performed so well he’s done the unthinkable: he’s drawing attention away from reigning first-team All-American and teammate Sammy Watkins.
Hopkins is on pace to become the first Clemson player to average more than 100 receiving yards per game. In six games this season, Hopkins has recorded two single-game program records: receptions in a game (13 vs. Auburn) and yards in a game (197 vs. Boston College). He is on pace for a 106-catch, 1,638-yard, 17-touchdown season. All would be school receiving records.
But Hopkins doesn’t want to talk about any of this.
“I let (quarterback) Tajh (Boyd) do all the celebrity, Hollywood stuff,” Hopkins said.
He really doesn’t want to talk about whether he’ll be back for his senior year at Clemson. There is a good chance this will be his last campaign at Clemson. He’s ranked as a second- to third-round prospect by NFDraftscout.com and his stock has been rising in draft circles.
But when he did talk earlier this week he was candid, articulate, interesting and at times comedic.
For instance how would Hopkins defend Hopkins?
“If I was a great defensive-minded coach what would I do?,” Hopkins said. “Honestly, I would double-team me. I feel I’m worth double-teaming.”
Hopkins followed by saying he was “kidding” about praising himself as being worthy of a double-team.
But was he?
Hopkins has always been quiet — his nickname “Nuk” came from a preference for Nuk pacifiers in his early years — but he listens and he bristled at being labeled a No. 2 receiver in the offseason.
Hopkins said he was never jealous of the attention Watkins received last season, but Hopkins worked out like he never had before this offseason to prove Clemson has two No. 1 receivers. He said he improved his strength and his speed, he now runs a 4.48 second 40-yard dash.
And he always works on his improving his Velcro-like hands. Hopkins has a drill where he catches balls shot out of a Jugs gun one-handed beginning from 15 feet out and working closer and closer “until I just can’t catch it.”
The improvements are making defenses pay when they pay too much attention to Watkins.
“(Hopkins) has been getting a lot of one-on-one coverage which is nice and he’s taken advantage of it,” Watkins said. “I’m pretty sure they are going to try and hold him back.”
It presents defenses with a challenge: who to double?
“I don’t know, you have to pick your poison,” Hopkins said.
It’s a conundrum for Virginia Tech this week. The Hokies don’t like to double any receiver and now Watkins is near 100 percent after his illness. He said he lost 10 pounds due to the virus, but his playing weight is back up to 204 pounds.
“Hopefully … I can show everyone I’m the same old Sammy,” Watkins said.
The same old Sammy paired with a new and improved Nuk? It’s a prospect Clemson is buzzing about even if Hopkins is not.