Will Hopkins needed a method to narrow down the list of college programs that coveted him. He decided on a simple factor: distance from home. SMU and Rice, the two interested schools closest to his hometown of Austin, Texas, found themselves in a competition for the former Oregon State offensive lineman’s services.
“That was the deciding factor in narrowing it down,” Hopkins told PonyStampede.
Sunday night, SMU emerged as the winner. Hopkins committed to SMU, a week after taking an official visit to the school over Memorial Day weekend. He is immediately eligible for the 2017 season and has one year left to play. He will arrive in Dallas in time for SMU’s fall camp, once he finishes classes at Oregon State, which is on a quarter system. Hopkins, a finance major in Oregon State’s honors college, has already picked out his graduate program.
“A really good grad program was an important aspect to me,” Hopkins said. “I’ll be pursuing a Masters of Science in Management in the Cox School.”
Hopkins spent nearly three days at SMU on his visit, where he met with the coaches and learned more about the graduate program options. SMU defensive backs coach Jess Loepp, who was the Austin-area recruiter during his time on Tulsa's coaching staff, put Hopkins in touch with SMU head coach Chad Morris and offensive line coach Dustin Fry. The pair took the lead on recruiting him to SMU.
“They made me feel really good about the decision and just very welcoming about everything,” Hopkins said. “Not that they didn’t make me feel that way at Rice, there were a couple other things that felt like a little better fit from an academic standpoint as far as my major. Plus it was a really great atmosphere and there’s something special going on there.”
“There was a level of sincerity there that was very noticeable. It didn’t seem fabricated at all. There wasn’t really any doubt left in my mind about how they are as people and as coaches.”
Part of SMU’s pitch to Hopkins was the need for experience along the offensive line. Before Hopkins’ addition, SMU had 13 scholarship offensive linemen, two below the 15 the coaching staff wants on the roster each year. SMU has five linemen who have at least nine college starts. It has seven others who have yet to play a college game. The 6-foot-7, 295-pound Hopkins has two career starts, both at left tackle, and has played in 17 career games.
“They were saying there are some spots where they can see me fitting in and providing some seniority, being an older guy,” Hopkins said. “They feel pretty secure at some positions and feel like they want a little bit more experience at other ones. I’m just humbled by the fact that they see me fitting into that.”
SMU’s number of linemen who have yet to play is a result of redshirting all true freshman offensive linemen, which SMU has done both seasons that Morris has been the head coach. Hopkins said those specifics were not brought up in SMU’s conversations about fit and need with him.
“They said it strictly from their side, that there are some younger guys that they have all the faith in that they could play, but if they could give them another year to develop, that’d be great for those guys too,” Hopkins said.
Hopkins started his Oregon State career as a walk-on tight end in 2013, but was awarded a scholarship in September of his freshman season and moved to offensive line later that season while redshirting. In 2014, he played 10 games, mostly on special teams. He started two games at left tackle in 2015 and played in three games as a reserve in 2016. Hopkins injured his foot in 2013, battled a a thumb issue in 2014. A bout with mono sidelined him for nearly two months in 2015 and caused him to lose about 20 pounds. He previously told PonyStampede he has been at his current weight for a year. He received his release to transfer in May.
Hopkins attended Bowie High School in Austin, where he played defensive line, before spending his final high school season at the Air Force Academy Prep School as an offensive lineman. He originally planned to play college football at Air Force.
After completing his visits to Rice and SMU, Hopkins considered taking a visit to Northwestern, but didn't end up taking it. He said he also considered taking visits to Georgia State and Nevada before trimming down his list.
“I was very content with the options at Rice and SMU,” Hopkins said. “It was a tough decision as it was.”