Michigan's Stephen Hopkins on how he carved out full-time role at fullback
Melanie Maxwell | AnnArbor.com
Now, the sophomore finds himself with more playing time than ever at a position that didn't even exist under the former Michigan football coach.
Hopkins enrolled at Michigan as a beefy 6-foot, 235-pound tailback from Double Oak, Texas, and he received 37 carries for 157 yards last year as a freshman.
He entered this season as a candidate to land the lead tailback job, but never really threatened Fitz Toussaint or Vincent Smith for playing time and found himself at the end of the bench.
Until fullback John McColgan got hurt.
When Michigan coach Brady Hoke was hired in January, he brought with him offensive coordinator Al Borges from San Diego State, and together they've implemented a system that meshes their West Coast principles with components of the existing spread-option offense run by Rodriguez.
That meant the re-introduction of the fullback, which hadn't been used since the Lloyd Carr days, and McColgan, a walk-on from Saginaw with no career carries coming into the season, suddenly found himself in a starter's role.
He suffered a midseason injury, though, and because Rodriguez did not recruit any true fullbacks during his tenure, the Wolverines didn't have a backup.
Hopkins' big body made him the logical choice to fill in for the senior, so he did. And he excelled. He decided to approach the coaching staff about making the switch full time.
"I brought it to them because I kind of wanted to play the position," Hopkins said Friday during a team bowling trip in New Orleans. "I was just hoping to get more time."
Hopkins said he also saw a possible future for himself at the position in the NFL.
The coaches agreed to the position change, and running backs coach Fred Jackson took Hopkins under his tutelage. But one thing became clear right away: Hopkins might have had a big body for tailback, but he was undersized as a fullback.
So, Hopkins started pounding the protein to bulk up. He added 10 pounds during the season — he's playing at about 238 pounds right now — and eventually overtook McColgan as the full-time starter at fullback for the Iowa game.
He'll be in the lineup Tuesday against Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl (8:30 p.m., ESPN).
Hopkins said his relationship with McColgan remains strong.
"John is like a player-coach, basically," Hopkins said. "He's really smart, knows the game well and has helped me a lot. ... I look up to him a lot."
Hopkins has just 11 carries for 43 yards this season, but his greatest impact, like any good fullback, has come in the blocking game. He said he takes great pride in the fact Toussaint and quarterback Denard Robinson each broke the 1,000-yard rushing barrier this year.
"That's a big deal around here," Hopkins said.
Hopkins also has become a target in the passing game, where his background as a tailback makes him faster and more agile than most fullbacks.