Gulf Middle football has its 'Sweetness'
PORT RICHEY - If Pasco County high schools were to hold a football draft, a certain first-round selection would be DeAndre Hopkins. During the past two seasons, the Gulf Middle standout shattered the career scoring record. As a seventh-grader, Hopkins rushed for 15 touchdowns, which earned him MVP honors at the coaching staff's "Down and Dirty" ceremonial ball. This season at quarterback, he ran for 24 touchdowns and threw for four more. "I didn't realize I had scored so many times," Hopkins, 14, said. "When I get ball, regardless of where in the field, I just want to keep going until I reach the end zone." The talent to avoid tackles and reach the end zone became apparent at age 8. In his second season in the PALS League, he had 35 rushing TDs, including eight in one game. The following year, he scored six first-half touchdowns before his coach decided to sit him.The Gulf Middle coaching staff has even labeled him "Sweetness" after former Chicago Bears running back Walter Payton. "At first, I didn't know who the coaches were referring to," Hopkins said. "I researched who Walter Payton was and learned that, in addition to his rushing records, he had great vision to see openings and the instincts to know where to run, always staying a step ahead of the defense. He also had an incredible work ethic and a determination to constantly get better." Like most skilled athletes, Hopkins plays on both sides of the ball. On defense as a safety, he had six interceptions, including a 93-yard return for a touchdown. Hopkins has also been invited to participate at several elite youth camps this summer, including ones held at Florida and USF. Two years ago, his coaches suggested playing basketball during the offseason to stay in shape. Practicing at the New Port Richey Recreation Center and scrimmaging in a Salvation Army youth league, his talents in a second sport blossomed. As the starting point guard, he averaged more than 10 points and nearly five assists. Last summer, as a member of an AAU travel team, he averaged 25 points. His playing drew the eye of ESPN, who invited him to play in all-star youth camp. "A point guard in basketball is similar to a quarterback in football," Hopkins said. "You always have to keep your eyes open for teammates or decide to take it yourself. I actually get more satisfaction when a teammate scores or makes a great play." Hopkins is committed to the classroom, too, as a consistent honor roll student, even becoming the recipient of the Presidential Award For Academic Excellence two years ago. "An education is important, so I take my school work seriously," he said. "The college coaches at every camp I have attended told us that Division I schools look for more than athletic skills. They also desire athletes who get good grades and are of high moral character. I'm committed to giving everything I've got."