Hopewell puts his foot down
Ben Hopewell isn’t even listed on the JMU roster, but the “kid from Waynesboro” has the attention of Dukes’ coach Mickey Matthews as Hopewell has landed in a battle for the starting placekicking job as a true freshman.
“He’s really putting some pressure on Dixon. We like the guy. He’s really got a chance,” Matthews said of Hopewell, a 2009 graduate of Wilson Memorial, who is challenging redshirt sophomore Dixon Wright for the kicking job and availing himself well in the process.
It’s an uphill battle, as the roster omission might suggest. Wright has another leg up, so to speak, in that Matthews has given him a scholarship while Hopewell is a member of the Madison team as an invited walkon. But it’s not like he came to JMU without any pedigree. His WMHS team allowed only two yards per return on his kicks in 2008, and he booted a school-record 52-yard field goal against Nelson County in his senior season in which he made nine of his 12 field-goal attempts.
Hopewell, wearing #33 at Media Day last week, said he’s getting more reps at practice and building his confidence with every practice session. “The big difference between high school and college is timing. The timing is unbelievable. They’re coming off the edge hard. We’ve got 1.3 seconds from snap to kick,” Hopewell said.
It helps that “the snappers and holders are better” at the college level. “I can just go out and do my thing,” Hopewell said.
He’s been booting 65-yard field goals in practice, showing his strength and accuracy from long distance. He also had a 68-yard average on kickoffs, which can be a big advantage for the JMU defense pinning opponents deep in their own territory after scores.
Hopewell realizes that his work is cut out for him. Whether he gets the starting kicking job this fall or not, he’s going to work hard to continue to improve at something that he’s been doing well since Little League.
“I don’t see any Single-A guys here at JMU. Plus coming from my school, we don’t have many Division I players coming out of Wilson. This is unreal for me,” Hopewell said.
– Story by Chris Graham