CLEMSON -- The throw seemed too high to be catchable, the swarming defensive backs too numerous to allow a reception.
Still, Jeff Scott continued to watch. Clemson's receivers coach knew better than to give up on a pass intended for DeAndre Hopkins. Scott watched as Hopkins timed his leap perfectly, his catcher's mitt-sized hand extending above the crowd for a one-handed grab at Clemson's football passing camp last summer.
"I wasn't sure he could get it," Scott said. "It's probably one that stood out. We knew we had coming what we thought we did."
What the Tigers thought they possessed was the blueprint of an archetype wide receiver. What Scott witnessed was verification.
Start with the true freshman's hands.
Hopkins says his size XXXL-sized receiver gloves are snug.
Does he possess the largest hands of the receivers? Undoubtedly, says the wiry 6-2, 195-pounder.
The largest hands on the team? Hopkins reflects for a moment.
"Malliciah Goodman has the biggest hands on the team," Hopkins said of the defensive end. "But my hands are pretty close."
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney calls them mitts. They intercepted 28 passes at Daniel High School and caught 57 passes for 1,266 yards and 18 touchdowns. They're memory foam soft, with Swinney calling his ability to catch the football "a very natural thing." The hands also ended any debate about what position the four-star prospect would play at Clemson, after a two-way prep career.
"I told him I haven't seen anybody catch the ball like that since old No. 88 was playing," said Swinney, noting his number at Alabama. "I'm going to get to see what a guy with hands like I had and a little better speed would look like."
And a better vertical jump.
While Hopkins' rare hands are rare traits, so is his 40-inch vertical leap. Combine those traits with what cannot be measured - his instincts and timing -- and Hopkins has nearly all the tools.
"Something that is really not talked about a lot is the ability to go up and catch the football at the highest point," Scott said. "A lot of people throw that out there as if it's an easy thing, but really it is a skill.
"If you had someone do a vertical jump and you could pause them at the highest point they can touch ... they have to be able to time their jump so that whenever a ball is at that point they are also at that exact point. They are only there for a 10th of a second. Some guys just have a natural born ability to do it and he is one of those guys."
While his playing speed is average for a receiver, with a reported time of 4.55 seconds in the 40-yard dash, witnesses to his high school punt returns say his gameday speed is excellent.
Scott did not rule out Hopkins immediately becoming part of the receiving rotation.
And with the group's leading returner receiver, Xavier Dye, catching a modest 14 passes last season -- it seems Hopkins will avoid a redshirt.
But how quickly Hopkins emerges depends on how quickly he absorbs the offense, how quickly he can polish his route running. Early in training camp, Scott says the college game is "fast" for Hopkins.
"If I come in and learn these plays and pick up on my routes I think I can contribute," Hopkins said. "I don't want to say start and push expectations overboard, because, these guys ahead of me know more about the schemes than I do."
But the expectations might already be overboard, or rather, rocketed skyward to a rare air where perhaps only Hopkins can reach off-target passes and seemingly limitless potential .
--The Tigers had just one practice Thursday, concluding at 8:30 p.m.
The Tigers practice this morning after which most of the team will got to Bamberg to a visitation for the father of defensive end Da'Quan Bowers. Bowers' father died unexpectedly on Sunday.
The Tigers will return tonight and hold a closed scrimmage in Clemson Memorial Stadium on Saturday morning.