ARGENTA — Ryan Hopkins never has to double check to make sure his son is awake in the mornings.
At around 6 a.m., Hopkins can usually hear his son, Arcola senior running back Austin Hopkins, rusting and the shower start to run. Soon after, Austin Hopkins is out the door and on his way to 6:30 a.m. workouts with the rest of his team.
There's maybe a week off for the Purple Riders during the year, and it's back to work — more 6 a.m. alarms that lead to 6:30 workouts. Austin Hopkins is never bothered. He knows that grind has a payoff: Friday night.
Austin Hopkins' payoff was big in a convincing 43-6 win over Argenta-Oreana on Friday night. He rushed 20 times for 145 yards and two touchdowns and zoomed all over the defense for tackle after tackle to go along with an interception that he returned 68 yards that set up a field goal late in the first half.
“It takes effort, but we’re here now," Hopkins said.
Being a running back is genetic for Austin Hopkins, and a sacred position in his family. Ryan Hopkins was a running back on the 1991 state runner-up and his uncle, Chad Hopkins, who was a quarterback and running back on the 1985 and 1988 Class 1A state championship teams.
When Austin Hopkins took over the reins as a sophomore two years ago, he was home.
“I feel like I’m holding more than myself, in a way," Austin Hopkins said. "Tradition in my family is really big and all my family members have been running backs. ... This is my territory."
Ryan Hopkins watched the game from the visitor's sideline at Argenta-Oreana on Friday night and waited just past the end zone after a brilliant game from his son, partly in awe and partly overcome by emotions. Ryan Hopkins sees his son building his list of accomplishments in an Arcola uniform.
It's partly surreal, but mostly expected because of Austin Hopkins' work ethic.
“I love this kid to death,” Ryan Hopkins said before pausing, “I’m speechless right now. It’s fun to watch him play because he gives 110 percent. It takes more than one person to bring him down. He’s not very fast, but he loves the game."
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All Austin Hopkins has done since starting his sophomore year is rack up yardage. He rushed for 1,003 as a sophomore and put together a 1,435-yard year last year. If healthy, it's reasonable to predict a four-digit rushing total again this season with his skills and a powerful offensive front that includes Garrett Sigrist, Mason Myers, Tyler Medina, Hugo Garza and Beau Smothers with fullback Ivan Garza paving the way.
They make a crease, and Hopkins breaks through. Rinse. Repeat.
"I just know once he gets through the first gap, he’s doing something great," Hugo Garza said.
Arcola head coach Nick Lindsey would prefer to not turn around and hand the ball to Austin Hopkins 20 times a game if he can help it. Lindsey knows that Austin Hopkins is also a key linebacker for the Purple Riders, but he seems to find a way to not wear down. That physical and mental endurance is one of Lindsey's favorite traits about his senior back.
“It’s definitely all mental," Austin Hopkins said. "That’s what that workout is for. You get up at 6:30 for that: to go back and forth on each side of the ball."
It didn't take long for Lindsey to know what he had in Austin Hopkins. The leadership skills were pretty evident two years ago as a sophomore and have only blossomed. Austin Hopkins has been a two-year captain and his leadership skills are "natural," Lindsey said.
Lindsey took over when Austin Hopkins was a sophomore, and knew pretty quick that it would be wise to hand the ball to him as frequently as possible.
“He’s a tough kid, physically; he’s mentally tough," Lindsey said. "I’ve never seen a leader like him — really, that whole senior class is full of leaders, but Austin is definitely the heart and soul and he’s a tough-minded kid."
That tough-minded attitude starts at 6:30 a.m. for 51 weeks a year. That's 51 Monday mornings that Ryan Hopkins never had to wake up his son, instead hearing the shower run, just a touch after 6 every morning.