Photo: Sardis High rising senior Jacob Hopper, pictured scoring a touchdown against Hokes Bluff last season, recently committed to play football for the University of South Alabama in Mobile. (Courtesy of Sand Mountain Reporter)
By Shannon J. Allen/Sand Mountain Reporter
Sardis High School rising senior Jacob Hopper is 6-foot-6, 232 pounds, so you can’t miss him when watching the Lions play football.
After he attended a recent camp at the University of South Alabama in Mobile, the Jaguars discovered that Hopper is a can’t-miss prospect at tight end.
Hopper and his parents Jody and Tabatha returned to the USA campus for a visit on June 19. The Jaguars offered Jacob a scholarship, and he gave the program a verbal commitment to sign during the NCAA’s early signing period in December.
“They told me that they were only taking one tight end,” Hopper said. “I was the No. 1 tight end on their recruiting board. I went down on a visit [on June 19] and they flat-out told me they wanted me. That’s where I wanted to be. It felt like the perfect fit for me.
Hooper, who is interested in pursuing a physical therapy degree at USA, pointed out that he liked South Alabama academically before he ever started considering playing football for the Jaguars.
“They have a great coaching staff and they’re building [the program] back up. Right now, we have 16 recruits in my class for the 2020 season, and the next closest in the conference is four.”
The Jaguars, who finished 3-9 in 2018 under new head coach Steve Campbell, compete in the Sun Belt Conference along with Troy, Louisiana-Monroe, Georgia Southern, Appalachian State, Texas State, Louisiana, Georgia State and Arkansas State.
Hopper also was a standout for the Lions’ varsity boys basketball team and could potentially earn a scholarship offer, but football is his favorite.
“It’s always been football, since I was probably 4 years old,” he said. “I’m pumped. I can’t wait.”
Hopper achieved his goal by committing this summer.
“It’s something me and my family talked about wanting to do, wanting to know by at least July of where I was going, for sure,” Hopper said. “Having it happen in June just makes it all the better.”
South Alabama defensive coordinator Greg Stewart and Sardis head football coach Gene Hill became friends during Stewart’s assistant coaching tenures at Jacksonville State, which covered 1989-97 and 2000-10.
“I forgot all about Coach Stewart,” Hill said. “The last time I kept up with him he was in Arkansas. He called and said, ‘What’s up? Why didn’t you call and tell me about this guy?’ And I was like, ‘I didn’t even know you were at South Alabama.’ Jacob was a good find for them, a good pickup.
“I was telling coach [Stewart] that as a ninth-grader Jacob stood in there toe-to-toe with those seniors, so that kind of tells you about his character and toughness.
“Jacob’s really been concentrating on his speed. He didn’t run a good time at the Under Armour Camp he went to, but when he went to South Alabama he ran a 4.9 [40-yard dash]. You could see in the spring that he was a step faster, so that work has really paid off for him, and I think that contributed to him being so high on their board.”
Hopper is a three-year varsity letter winner. As a junior in football, he caught 31 passes for 378 yards and nine touchdowns. Hopper plays the ‘Y’ receiver position in the Sardis offense and contributes at defensive end.
“Jacob really played a lot of snaps both ways last year,” Hill said. “We’ll probably be in the same schemes this year, so we have to get him in really good shape. His senior class is a special little group. I know this doesn’t mean a lot, but back when they were in junior high, they were undefeated, so it’s a group that knows how to win, and that’s really important. It’s a good bunch of young men.
“Jacob is just one of the ones that’s going to get an opportunity to play [college football], and hopefully a couple more [players] will get an opportunity. You’ve got to give a lot of credit to his teammates, and I know Jacob does. We’re blessed that he’s going to be a Lion just a little bit longer. We’re looking forward to that, and then we’re looking forward to what he’s going to do in the future at South Alabama.”
Sardis finished 3-7 this past season in their first year in Class 5A. The Lions compete in Region 6 against Etowah, Southside, Boaz, Crossville, Douglas, and Alexandria.
“I want to win region,” Hopper said. “I think we have a great shot at that. We have more experience than we did last year. We have a seasoned O-line. They were younger last year, but this year we’re looking pretty solid.”
NCAA Division II member Notre Dame College in Ohio and NCAA Division III member Birmingham-Southern College also offered scholarships to Hopper.
Hill said USA was Hopper’s first Division I offer, and he expects him to stick with it.
“Knowing what I know and what I’m hearing, I wouldn’t doubt this is not Jacob’s last offer. He went to Auburn and had a really good camp, and I talked to [former Etowah, Auburn University and NFL footall player] Carnell [Williams] the night before he went and talked to him afterward. [Auburn] may be coming to watch [Hopper] play in the fall.
“Jacob may get some more opportunities as far as that goes, but I think South Alabama is a perfect fit for him, and it just so happens that happened to be his first D-I offer.”
Williams is Auburn’s new running backs coach. Hill served as defensive coordinator at Etowah during Williams’ hifh school career.