USC-bound Hopkins and Stanley earn top honors

James Island’s Makyla Stanley (left) and T.J. Hopkins of Summerville are the All-Lowcountry athletes of the year.

Summerville’s T.J. Hopkins and James Island’s Makyla Stanley come from different backgrounds, participate in different sports, and had never met as of two weeks ago.

But the two outstanding high school athletes have two major things in common. One, each has been named The Post and Courier’s All-Lowcountry athlete of the year for the 2014-15 school year. Two, both will be taking their respective talents to the University of South Carolina in the fall.

Hopkins, the boys athlete of the year, and Stanley, winner of the girls award, proved to be two of the state’s top performers in their respective sports. Hopkins made his name as an all-state defensive back in football and an all-state center fielder in baseball, while Stanley was one of the area’s top basketball players and one of the state’s most decorated track athletes this past spring.

Hopkins earned a selection to the North-South all-star football game last December, picking up an interception and two pass breakups in the game.

After a stellar senior baseball season, he was chosen for the South Carolina select all-star team. Hopkins batted .371 for the 25-4 Green Wave, including two home runs, 18 runs batted-in and 40 runs scored. He also had 23 stolen bases and posted an impressive .517 on-base percentage.

For Hopkins, the summer break will not last long. After playing for the South Carolina select team in this weekend’s SC/NC Select challenge in Myrtle Beach, Hopkins will have two weeks remaining in his summer before reporting to South Carolina on July 5.

After many summers of travel and showcase baseball, Hopkins begins the “real work” that baseball becomes at the big-time college level.

“I’m excited about moving on to the next stage but it is definitely nerve-wracking,” admits Hopkins. “I would guess I spend about 85 percent of my free time thinking about what is coming ahead and how much it’s all changing for me. But I’m definitely looking forward to it.”

Hopkins has spent most of his time since the end of the Summerville’s season changing his work habits and eating habits. He has added 10 pounds in the last four weeks, using the weight room and a 3,800-calorie diet to improve his overall strength, weight and conditioning.

“I feel great, better than I have ever felt,” said Hopkins. “If I have one regret, it’s that I didn’t take weight training and working out more seriously when I was younger. If I had to give advice to any younger players it would be to take the weight room seriously and get stronger.”

Stanley, on the other hand, is “taking a mental, physical and emotional break” this summer, choosing to step back from athletics and enjoy her summer working at the James Island County Park. She will report to USC in August.

“I love competing but I really needed a break,” said Stanley. “It’s a new beginning and I’m real nervous and excited about the new challenges, but I am trying not to focus too much on that right now. I want to clear my head and be able to focus all of my energy on performing once I get there.”

Stanley earned all-Region 7-AAAA honors during the basketball season, leading James Island to the AAAA state playoffs by averaging 12.2 points, 5.8 rebounds and 3.4 steals per game.

Her best sport — and the sport she will be participating in at South Carolina — is track and field. At the 2015 AAAA state track and field championships, Stanley captured gold in the long jump and triple jump while finishing second in the 100-meter dash finals and seventh in the high jump.

Stanley holds the school record in all four events, but says setting records and winning gold medals comes secondary to her being named as the area’s top female athlete.

“This beats them all because it’s a very special honor to be recognized as the best with so many good athletes in our area,” said Stanley. “Believe it or not, it was one of my goals set at the beginning of the year. When my mother and I talked about awards and stuff, I said I wanted to be the Lowcountry athlete of the year. It’s very special for me and something I will always be proud of.”