Virginia Tech defensive tackle Derrick Hopkins can remember a moment at his grandmother’s house when he was little and fell off a see-saw. His older brother, Antoine, used the see-saw to “smush” him.
The Hopkins have plenty of memories together, but they both agreed that none could possibly compare to the ones they will make this season when they line up next to each other as starters on Virginia Tech’s defensive line.
“This one will go down in the books,” said Antoine.
The last brothers to play side-by-side for the Hokies were Blake and Brett Warren at linebacker in the mid 2000s. The last pair of brothers to line up at defensive tackle were Kevin and Jonathan Lewis, who started in the mid-2000s. There was also defensive end Orion Martin and his brother, Cam, a linebacker, and offensive linemen T.J. and Todd Washington in the mid-1990s.
“Playing with him on this level is crazy,” Antoine said. “It won’t be the first time playing side by side, but at Virginia tech, he’s a sophomore, he played as a true freshman, he’s doing big things, his big brother is beside him. What more could you ask for?”
Antoine, a redshirt junior, is the only returning starter up front for the Hokies this season, but the potential of the front four is reminiscent of some of Virginia Tech’s stingiest defenses under coordinator Bud Foster. Just how fearsome this foursome can be, though, depends in part on how the Hopkins brothers fare on the interior. Both made significant strides this spring, and could be difference-makers this fall.
Antoine started the final 12 games of last season and finished with 45 tackles, including two sacks and 6.5 for loss. He also had seven quarterback hurries. Derrick was one of only two true freshmen to play for the Hokies last season and was named the top defensive newcomer of spring practices. He was in the two-deep last year, but defensive line coach Charley Wiles said Derrick “kind of leveled off a little bit at the end of the year.” This spring, though, he matured, and will push his brother to be the team’s top tackle.
“There’s no competition at all,” Derrick said. “That’s the way we were raised. We support each other and back each other up.”
And they have made each other better.
They live together, they practice together, and Antoine’s experiences both on and off the field helped speed up Derrick’s freshman learning curve.
“I think the biggest part was just the whole comfort level,” Antoine said. “I knew the ropes here. I could point him in the right direction, but he’s actually helped me a lot. I have a younger brother here, so I had to step my game up. I couldn’t make as many mistakes because he’s watching. He learns from my mistakes. He came in the first year and adapted very well.”
Playing for the same school wasn’t something they said they planned -- it just happened. Derrick was considering other schools, like Georgia and Boston College, but in the end said Virginia Tech was the best fit for him.
Of course, his brother might have played a small role in the recruiting factor.
“It’s a blessing,” Derrick said. “With this situation, me and my brother playing the same position at Virginia Tech, it’s a blessing from the lord. It’s rare. People don’t get to do this every day.”