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Gold and Black Illustrated, Vol 27, Digital 5

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Page 35 of 87

GOLD AND BLACK ILLUSTRATED VOLUME 27, ISSUE 5 36 have my back and even though they're depending on me, if I do make a mistake it's not the end of the world and I just have to get back up and keep going at it. That's a big part of it. Only having a couple years of football under my belt when I got here, that was probably a main reason I was a nervous wreck. "I knew what I had to do, I knew I had a lot of work to put in. Now, that I'm further along in the process, I feel a lot more confident." It could make him a huge threat in the passing game. He's showed big-play ability already, like on his 51-yard touchdown vs. Nevada last season, a game-clinching catch and one of his four scores in only 10 receptions. But it came after a drop, as well. He had that one, when he was running alone in the secondary but couldn't haul in a pass that might too have been slightly off–target, and another vs. Cincinnati that resulted in a turnover. "I had that tip and the safety intercepted it," he said. "I was down after that and I learned later on that I should have just shaken it off and got back out there. But I had this feeling of, 'What if it happens again?' I was thinking too much, scared I guess, but now that I've played and going to play at (venues like) Nebraska, where the crowd is loud in a full stadium — it's crazy out there — so it could have been much worse. I just have to shake it." Hopkins had a productive spring, although it didn't end the way he hoped. He missed the last week after suf- fering a mild sprain in his A/C joint in a shoulder — and he had wisdom teeth pulled, as well — so he didn't play in the spring game. But a few weeks later, he said he was feeling fine, the absence more precautionary. Good, because he'll want to add strength in the offseason; although Hopkins looks like a beast on the field, he could stand to make gains in the weight room this summer. But Levine loves his potential. "Brycen is deceptively fast," he said. "I don't know what his 40 time would be but this spring when he caught the ball and turned up field, he was moving. I've felt this way for a long time, but guys who are taller and longer might not look like they're running as fast at times, even though they are. And he falls into that category. I think he has great speed, and I think the ability to catch the ball for him is exceptional." Hopkins marked a great catch for Purdue a couple years ago. Although he played only as a junior and se- nior at his high school in Nashville — he was focused more on basketball during his first few years at Ensworth — Hopkins was on the verge of major offers when he committed to the Boilermakers over a bunch of smaller schools. Georgia was close, as was Florida, with the Gators wanting Hopkins to come to campus in the weeks before signing day in February 2015. But Hopkins stuck with Purdue, because it had reached out to him first. And now Purdue's decision to offer before others could pay off. "He's a very athletic guy," Herdman said. "What's im- pressed me the most is how he's come along from being that basketball player who could catch a football, now he has become a lot better studying the game and has got- ten stronger obviously as well. "He's a big guy and his upside is huge." Coming together Herdman insists he's the better dunker. And at that, Hopkins only laughs. "You can't let him come in here and tell all those lies," Hopkins said. "He starts gassing himself up and feeling good. And then when Cole gets too much confidence in himself, I've got to shut him down. I've got to keep him in check. But that's definitely a lie, for sure." There are videos, each trying his hand at one-upping the other with an ever-more-impressive throwdown. Herdman and Hopkins, although they've never played one-on-one, will gather up teammates to play 3-on-3 at the Co-Rec. But typically they're the two best, most ath- letic players, big and powerful and quick. The sport is in their backgrounds — Hopkins still calls basketball is "first love" — and has helped shape how they play on the football field, the footwork and coordi- nation. "That's one of the first questions we ask guys we're recruiting, 'Do you play other sports, specifically basket- ball?' " Levine said. "Or if they're a receiver or DB, 'Do you run track?' I think without question, you see some of their basketball skills show up in their body control and hand-eye coordination when it comes to catching a football." It'll turn into mismatches on the field, Purdue hopes.

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