Back when Florida State was recruiting Dustin Hopkins, a family acquaintance gave the kicker a friendly nudge and suggested there might be better places to spend his Saturdays splitting uprights.
As Hopkins remembers it now, the conversation went something like this: “Watch out. I don’t know if you want to go to school there. They don’t have a great history with kickers.”
That was the first time Hopkins heard of “wide right” and a litany of highly publicized kicking malfunctions to follow at FSU in the early 1990s. He thought it odd. After all, the Seminoles in subsequent seasons produced Sebastian Janikowski and Graham Gano, who both were recipients of the Lou Groza Award for their kicking excellence.
“I suppose it’s a lot easier to remember the bad than the good a lot of times, especially with kickers,” Hopkins said. “I think that’s the case with Florida State, and I think that’s what drew me to Florida State, to just change the perception — or try to, anyways.”
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Well, very nearly.
“We’ll see after the next game whether that worked out over the course of four years here,” Hopkins said.
Barring some sort of kicking catastrophe in Tuesday’s Orange Bowl against Northern Illinois, Hopkins will conclude his collegiate career at FSU as one of the greatest to wield foot to leather. He already owns the NCAA’s scoring mark for a kicker and trails only Wisconsin running back Montee Ball on the all-time scoring list for players at any position.
He has made 24 of 28 field goal tries this season, including all five of his blasts from beyond 50 yards. After inexplicably missing four extra-point attempts early in his freshman season, he converted 145 in a row, the eighth-longest streak in NCAA history, before missing one against Savannah State this season.
No wonder EJ Manuel says that he has as much confidence in Hopkins — “110 percent confidence” — to get the job done as he does in any of the offensive linemen whose duty it is to protect the FSU quarterback from harm.
Hopkins is so close to automatic that Manuel, who is the kicker’s hotel roommate for away games, said he doesn’t take any unnecessary chances once inside enemy territory.
“The goal is definitely to get six points,” Manuel said. “But, in my mind, if it’s third-and-18 and we’re in field-goal range, I don’t try to force anything. With Dustin, you’ve got points. Dustin is a guaranteed points kind of guy.”
Hopkins is so good that most talent evaluators predict he’ll be the first kicker taken in the upcoming NFL Draft in April, just ahead of Caleb Sturgis, his friendly rival at the University of Florida. He has the leg and the accuracy.
“Caleb’s a great guy,” Hopkins said. “We always joke around that we’re the only two finalists [for the Lou Groza Award] that never won it.”
Hopkins and Sturgis were among the three finalists for the kicking award each of the past two years but lost out to the third finalist in the group both times. This season, it was Tulane’s Cairo Santos, who went 21 for 21 on his field-goal tries, being tabbed for the award.
Hopkins has the scoring mark, though, and a near certain NFL future.
After the Orange Bowl, Hopkins plans on taking part in scouting combines and the Senior Bowl to put his talents on display for prospective NFL teams.
“Once you’re up to that level, you’re among the 32 best kickers in the world, and it is a fine line between the great ones and the guy who are in the league for three years — and gone,” Hopkins said.
“I’m confident in myself that I can do that and play for a long time. But just because I had some success at the college level, I can’t be complacent.”