James Palmer one-on-one with DeAndre Hopkins
Jeff Scott remembers the morning of Dec. 27, 2011 well.
All too well.
Scott, along with his wife Sara, was heading to Memorial Stadium to meet up with the rest of team. They were going to meet, pack up the buses, and head on the road to the 2012 Orange Bowl in Miami to face West Virginia.
That’s when the Clemson wide receivers coach saw a car crashed on the side of the highway.
That car belonged to then-sophomore receiver DeAndre Hopkins.
Scott and his wife were on a frontage road when they recognized the car to be Hopkins’ and they “got around there pretty quick” to arrive on the scene.
Scott got out of his car and braced himself for the worst possible news. After all, he didn’t know the severity of the accident. He didn’t know if Hopkins was hurt, or even worse, dead.
“When we got out of the car, the police detective was walking up to the car and it was one of those moments you don’t know what he’s about to tell you,” Scott said during a phone interview on Friday afternoon. “He told us he was OK. He was just really fortunate to be alive. It was definitely just a scary moment for all of us.”
And Hopkins was relatively fine. Scott said the policeman told him Hopkins was knocked unconscious but would be OK. Scott said the tires on the receiver’s car were worn too thin and he happened to hit a wet patch on the road. It was raining that morning, he recalled.
But that scare was enough to change Hopkins’ outlook on life. And it was enough to scare his mother greatly.
“He started out in the front seat and the car spun around and went up a tree and he ended up in the backseat,” Hopkins’ mother, Sabrina Greenlee said at Reliant Stadium on Friday, the day after the Texans used the 27th-overall pick to take her son. “And he got out of that car and he had a whole new view on life. He was stronger, more determined. I couldn’t keep him home. He went on to play in the bowl game.”
Hopkins suffered a concussion during the wreck but eventually met the team in Miami and played in the Orange Bowl. He caught 10 passes for 107 yards and a touchdown in a loss to the Mountaineers. His performances in big games was one of the things that attracted the Texans to him.
“(Playing in the game) said an awful lot about him,” Scott said. “He was cleared (to play) but it was his decision. He’s a tough player. He’s never gonna pull himself out of a game with an injury. He may be injured and act like nothing’s wrong.”
Hopkins went on to have an even better junior season. He caught 82 passes for 1,405 yards and 18 touchdowns.
But Hopkins’ crash on that Tuesday morning was just all too familiar to his mother. See, Hopkins’ father died in a car wreck in 1992, when Hopkins was just a baby. That crash came rushing back into the mind of Greenlee when her son was involved in a crash of his own.
“I held my breath but once I got there, I knew he was OK,” Greenlee said. “I didn’t see any blood or any cuts or anything, I was like ‘he’s OK.’ He was strong. He got through it.”
Perseverance has been a theme in Hopkins’ 20-year-old life. He and his family have dealt with plenty of tragedy.
Hopkins and his family have been through so much. That’s why hearing his name on the first night of the draft was so sweet.
“It was rewarding for me because we have been through a lot, a lot of deaths, a lot of tragedies and a lot of funerals,” Greenlee said. “So for him to live out his dream and to hear his name called was a dream come true for us.”
Thursday was a joyous day in their family home in South Carolina and those feelings rolled over into Friday’s early evening press conference. And Hopkins was able to share the entire experience with his mother.
“She is here because she’s my mother and I love her more than any other woman,” Hopkins said. “We’ve been through a lot as a family. So this time, right now, we’re enjoying it. It’s a relief off our shoulders. It feels like we can relax just a little bit, but still a lot of work to do.”
Hopkins is the first receiver the Texans have taken in the first round of the NFL draft since they took Andre Johnson with the third-overall pick in 2003. Hopkins will come to camp with a chance to immediately earn a starting spot.
But none of Hopkins’ success is much of a surprise to Scott, who first met Hopkins early in his high school career. Hopkins was a two-way standout at D.W. Daniel High School in Central, South Carolina. He was actually more of a defensive back than a wideout before going to college.
“Yeah, I could tell (he was going to be special) pretty early, when he was a freshman,” said Scott, who swapped texts with his former player on Thursday night. “He started midway through his freshman year and even then, as a 180-pound kid, I could tell he had the talent. As long as he worked hard, it was apparent.”
Hopkins was also a very good basketball player and was a reserve on a good Clemson team as a freshman. But his true love was always football. His mother said she took him to play football for the first time when he was 6.
“He was a quarterback,” Greenlee said, “and he could throw the ball flat-footed really far and the coaches were like, ‘can you bring this kid back tomorrow?’”
Hopkins is heading back to South Carolina on Saturday. His mother said the first order of business will be to just catch their collective breath. But before long, he’ll be back in Houston, trying to earn reps and a starting job.
But on Friday, he was asked if it was all starting to sink in.
“Just a little bit,” Hopkins said. “Looking at you guys, it’s setting in now. I’m still enjoying it.”