The sky’s the limit

Mountain Island resident Hopper enters senior year with eye on Clemson

by Aaron Burns

Berry Academy rising senior Germone Hopper, who lives in Mountain Island, has committed to play football at his dream school: Clemson University. Aaron Burns/MIM photo

I’ve got to get past this guy. No way I’m letting him keep me out of the end zone.

It’s a simple thought, but it’s what goes through Germone Hopper’s head every time a defender is between the Phillip O. Berry Academy football star and the orange pylon he aims for every time the ball is in his hands.

Hopper, who lives in the Mountain Island area, credits his strong religious beliefs as a motivational tool. But in most cases, whether it’s the power of positive thinking, sheer determination or just blazing speed, a couple of seconds after the thought enters Hopper’s mind, he’s in the end zone, and the Cardinals have a touchdown on the board.

The game seems to come easily for Hopper, almost as if having a football in his hands is second nature. Just walking around and chatting, he’ll cradle the ball as if he’s in a game, keeping it tucked under his left shoulder where nobody can knock it out. That mind-set comes with having competed in the sport since he was 5, when he walked into his family’s living room and proudly announced he was going to play football.

Since he first set foot on a field, Hopper has always worn the jersey No. 5. But after his senior season at Berry this fall, he might have to change numbers once he enrolls at Clemson University.

It’s been a dream of Hopper’s to play for the Tigers since he was a kid. When he was young, Hopper’s favorite animal was a tiger, so his family told him he should cheer for the Clemson Tigers. So for Hopper, Clemson also is the perfect team to make his new gridiron home.

A year or so from now, Hopper will have his chance to shine for the Tigers. But the day he signed, it almost was a dream too good to be true for Clemson as well.

“I (committed to) them on April 1, April Fool’s Day, and at first, they were like, ‘Is this an April Fool’s joke?’” Hopper said. “And I told them ‘Nope, this is for real.’”

In his three high school seasons, Hopper’s been for real, too. He concluded his junior year at Berry with 1,359 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns, but that was just as a running back. He’s much more than that as a football player.

“Once I got to high school, coaches noticed I was able to catch the ball well, so I started playing receiver too,” Hopper said. “Now, (receiver) is my favorite position.”

Part of what Hopper said he feels like helped his chances of getting a scholarship offer from Clemson, which was the first school to heavily recruit him, were his abilities as a receiver. As a junior for the Cardinals, he caught 39 passes for 465 yards and five scores. Hopper said he’s heard from Clemson coach Dabo Swinney that he will get a chance to play running back, slot back and wide receiver once he reports to the Tigers. But until then, Hopper said his two main goals are to help the Cardinals win football games and become a better person on and off the field.

If there’s anything Hopper loves most about playing football, it’s getting the ball in the open field and having that one-on-one battle with a defensive back. That’s where he says he helps his team the most. Hopper said his favorite play is the bubble screen, when the quarterback rifles him the ball and he’s about to face the defender head-on. Well, that’s not always the immediate result.

“Usually, I just out-run the guy,” Hopper said with a laugh. “I’m dangerous in the open field.”

Germone Hopper Jim Dedmon/MIM photo

Perhaps no one knows what skills Hopper brings to the game, or how tough he is to beat, more than his cousin and confidante, Rod Cole, and Hopper’s mentor, former NFL defensive tackle Brentson Buckner. Hopper met Buckner at Buckner’s football camp when he was 12 and won the camp’s most valuable player award. Buckner, a former Carolina Panther and Clemson Tiger, was impressed with Hopper’s skills, and they’ve become good friends. Hopper credits Buckner with being a positive influence on him as a player and a person, but he said Buckner never tried to direct him to Clemson.

“It’s a great experience for me knowing someone who’s been through the whole process and been to the highest level,” Hopper said. “He never steered me toward Clemson; he just always tells me to make the right decisions and stay focused.”

Focus has never been an issue for Hopper with whatever he does. On the field, he says he relies on instinct and just a little thought in most cases. But Hopper is more than just a two-position star; he’s a two-sport star, boasting talent in track as well.

Hopper finished third in the Class 2A state 100-meter dash (10.68 seconds) and fourth in the 200 (21.68). What started as an easy way to stay in shape for football and keep his speed at an elite level became a sport Hopper said he’s considering trying at Clemson.

But before that, Hopper wants to establish himself on the football field and in the classroom, where he hopes to study construction engineering – something he calls a “back-up” career plan.

“I want to get my core classes done first before I try track,” he remarked. “But my first goal is for us to win a national championship while I’m there.

“(My recruiting visit) was picture-perfect there,” added Hopper. “I just knew then that that’s where God wants me to go.”

According to Cole, his cousin and confidante, the opportunity to watch Hopper mature as a person going through high school makes his cousin even more confident that Hopper will make a name for himself at Clemson.

“The sky’s the limit for Germone, because he’s mature, and he’s spiritually based,” Cole said. “He could be one of the best players we’ve ever seen in this area.”

When Hopper steps on the field, he’s always the last on his team to do so. Every 10 or 15 yards, he says a prayer. He said it’s what motivates him to be the best he can be as a player – not to mention a terror for opponents.

Especially when he’s closing in on that orange pylon.

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