When you're ranked as the best high school place-kicker in the country according to the top two recruiting services and ESPN you must be doing something right. Such was the case for Bills rookie kicker Dustin Hopkins, who was drafted in the sixth-round a week and a half ago.
Hopkins missed just three attempts in his senior year of high school and they came from 54, 58 and 64 yards away. Top colleges were coming out of the woodwork to secure him as a recruit. It was at that point that the Houston native had made good on his belief that he could get an education and possibly more out of his kicking ability.
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Following his freshman year of high school, Hopkins decided to move away from soccer and focus fully on place kicking. Practicing and training on his own however, was not good enough for the 14-year old. He took it upon himself to find ways to fine tune his kicking.
"One thing I took out of my freshman year was that was the first time I saw that I might be able to get an education out of my kicking and maybe even take it further than that," said Hopkins. "So that's when I took the initiative to ask my parents to take me to some of these kicking camps. I could kick a ball pretty good, but I was lacking in a lot of areas technically speaking."
Hopkins, who lived in Houston, went to a local weekend camp or two, but also attended a kicking camp in Wisconsin run by Jamie Kohl.
"There were two guys I went to for kicking camps," Hopkins said. "I went to a guy named Chris Sailer and he does kicking camps throughout the country. Another guy that I worked with even more throughout my career, and who I would consider my personal coach, is Jamie Kohl with Kohl's Kicking and they're based out of Wisconsin. I went to some camps of theirs and I learned a lot.
"Jamie kind of took time with me and broke down film and taught me a lot of things to hone my skills as opposed to being just a guy with a strong leg that wasn't accurate. It's helped me tremendously."
Hopkins has attended the Wisconsin-based camp each of the last six or seven years, and his Florida State career is all that's needed as evidence for the advancement of his game.
Of course the start of his college career was an interesting one. Facing arch rival Miami, Hopkins in his first college game was presented with a 52-yard attempt.
"It was a blessing in disguise for me," he said. "Going into the season I was hoping for a long first attempt, especially as a freshman. It kind of takes the pressure off of you knowing that if you don't get it people might cut you a break. If you do make it people are like, 'Wow that's a heck of a first kick.' So it was a win-win for me. When I first came into college I cared more about what people thought than I do now."
Hopkins was successful on that 52-yarder and hit a 45-yard attempt later in the game, but the Seminoles would drop a 38-34 decision.
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Four years later Hopkins had put together a heck of a resume. He was successful on over 93 percent of his combined kicks (PAT and FG's 290-of-319), Hopkins was a career 78.5 percent field goal kicker for his career (88-112).
He had three-straight 100-plus point seasons to finish his career becoming the only player in school history to do so. His career-high 140-point season in 2012 also broke the ACC all-time single season scoring mark.
Hopkins also set the career bar for college kickers setting the NCAA scoring record of 466 points. His 88 career field goals were also a new NCAA, ACC and FSU record.
"Before the season started this past year I wanted to be the all-time kicking leading scorer. I wanted to be the all-time scorer overall and I didn't get that and I wanted to set the career field goal record," Hopkins said. "During the season though, I didn't think about that. I think when you get caught up in numbers and things like that you can't focus on that. You have to be in the moment of every kick. Afterwards you can look at those goals in hindsight and see how you did at the end of the year."
Despite all of Hopkins' accomplishments he isn't assuming anything as he prepares for Bills rookie minicamp this weekend. He knows his competition is the Bills' most accurate kicker in team history at better than 83 percent.
The Bills have made no secret they're in the market for a better leg on kickoffs after drafting kickoff specialist John Potter in the seventh round last year. While Doug Marrone has said he's open to the idea of keeping two kickers, Hopkins seems to have the overall skill set to be Lindell's most legitimate challenge.
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"This thing is going to be a competition. You can't play in the league as long as he has and not be a great kicker," said Hopkins. "That being said I've got my work cut out for me because he's very talented, he's experienced and has a lot of things going for him. I want to come in and compete and whatever the organization is they want the best at that position. We're both going to try our best to win that job."