Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Football [Print without images]

Thursday, October 18, 2012
Kicker keeps blissfully unaware

By David M. Hale
NoleNation

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- A picture had circulated among Florida State fans on Twitter the day after Dustin Hopkins missed two field goals against Clemson.

A fan had driven past FSU's practice fields and snapped the photo of a lone kicker, booting footballs through the uprights in the early hours of the morning. The assumption among those who viewed the photo was that a somber Hopkins had trudged into work early, hoping to rectify whatever flaw had developed in his routine.

Dustin Hopkins
Dustin Hopkins has converted his past nine field-goal attempts.
A few days later, however, a reporter asked Hopkins about the photo, and he looked puzzled.

"It wasn't me," he said. "I don't change the routine."

This is the story of Hopkins' career in a nutshell. His success has been such a consistent backstory for Florida State for the past four seasons that fans assume he must be heartbroken after a few misses, and his workload must adjust accordingly. For Hopkins, however, success is built on consistency, and to alter his routine would be admitting defeat.

Hopkins lives by the same code all kickers must: The bad games happen, but they quickly disappear. Moving on is all about forgetting.

It's no surprise then that the most prolific kicker in Florida State history -- an honor Hopkins secured last week with three field goals and six PATs against Boston College -- is largely unaware of the lineage of kicking mishaps that have occurred against this week's opponent.

The FSU-Miami rivalry has been defined as much by errant kicks as it has by the big plays of stars like Deion Sanders, Casey Weldon or Charlie Ward. The outcomes of games are remembered by the direction upon which FSU field goals were missed, but Hopkins only knows a few vague details.

"It's something that, when I committed, I'd heard of but didn't know much about," he said. "Even now, I don't know much about it. I don't want to know much."

The legacy of epic misses hasn't had much effect on Hopkins' career anyway. The first field-goal attempt of his career came against Miami, and Hopkins drilled a 52-yarder through the uprights.

Since then, Hopkins has endured his share of unfortunate misses. That, after all, is the life of a kicker. Success is largely measured in silence, while the misses are etched into the history books.

For the most part though, Hopkins hasn't let those mistakes linger. They happen, he figures out what went wrong and then he moves on.

"Sometimes I don't even understand how he can get over something that quick," running back Chris Thompson said, "but that just comes with his experience."

Hopkins lives in the moment, generally unaware of past mistakes or future milestones. He is unflinchingly grounded.

Late in the second half of Florida State's blowout win over Wake Forest earlier this season, quarterback EJ Manuel approached Hopkins with a joke.

"He kind of cut me off," Manuel said. "I was kind of like, 'Dang, D-Hop, that's messed up.' But I understood what he was trying to do. He's locked in all the time."

It was a week later that Hopkins missed his two kicks against Clemson. He missed another in his first attempt against USF the following week. These things happen, he said.

He did make alterations, tweaking his approach to something closer to the mechanics he employed last season. He has made his last nine kicks, including three in last week's win over BC. The 15 points he tallied in that game gave him 402 for his career, which set a new ACC and Florida State record.

A few weeks earlier, Hopkins had run into the old FSU record holder, Derek Schmidt, at the hotel where Hopkins' parents stay on home football weekends.

"He approached me and was very gracious about the whole thing," Hopkins said. "He just said, if it was going to be broken, he was glad it was by me."

It was a humbling moment, Hopkins said, but he's not the type of person to require many of those.

When Hopkins' 51-yard field goal to end the first half sailed through the uprights last week to break the school and conference scoring records, he was completely unaware. It was only later that he was informed of the news, and he shared a hug with his father in the stands.

Afterward, Hopkins sat at a table in front of reporters and opened a Bible, where he'd marked off a passage he wanted to share.

"The righteous face many troubles, but the Lord rescues them from each and every one," he read.

Hopkins has faced his troubles, and he's done his share of rescuing, too. That's the job, and the scoring record is a testament to how many times he'd endured both.

But for Hopkins, the record isn't much different than the kicks he made weeks earlier or those memorable misses he's never bothered to watch from decades ago.

"It just shows the opportunities I've gotten," Hopkins said. "I'm sure there have been kickers here that have been better than me but kicked for two years or three. I got the opportunity to kick for four years, and it's been a learning process. When it's all done, I'll look back on it and reflect and see how it all went down."