Created:Thursday, July 28, 2011 5:30 a.m.CDT

Hopkins leading NIU's rush

Northern Illinois running back Jasmin Hopkins carries the ball during the second quarter against North Dakota on Sept. 11, 2010, at Huskie Stadium in DeKalb. NIU won, 23-17. Hopkins enters practice – which begins a week from today – as the starter in the Huskies’ backfield. (Rob Winner file photo –

CHICAGO – Jasmin Hopkins knows he has pressure on him after first-year football coach Dave Doeren named him Northern Illinois’ starting running back to begin fall practice Aug. 4

The 5-foot-7 senior knows he has to fight off teammates Akeem Daniels, Jamal Womble and Leighton Settle to maintain the lead in one of the team’s most competitive position battles.

“I’ve got good running backs behind me,” Hopkins said. “Everybody brings something different to the table.”

But the fleet-footed running back has shown he won’t let pressure or adversity slow him down.

Just three years ago, Hopkins wanted to quit.

He had only been at Fort Scott (Kan.) Community College for a few days, but the culture shock seemed too great for the Charlotte, N.C. native.

“It was really hard, coming from Charlotte, going to a place where there’s nothing but fields and cows,” he said.

Hopkins didn’t have the test scores out of high school to gain admission into a Division I school, so he decided to play for then-Fort Scott coach Jeff Sims’ program. But Hopkins felt his coach’s description of the small Kansas town just didn’t do it justice.

“It was really hard, stressful,” Hopkins said. “There wasn’t really anything around except McDonald’s and Walmart. You had to get really close to friends that you were competing with.”

Hopkins just wanted to play football, so he pressed through.

In two years at Fort Scott he rushed for 3,158 yards, second most in school history, and was named the NJCAA offensive player of the year.

But offers from power-conference schools didn’t come, so he chose to play at NIU, where he knew he’d have to bide his time behind Chad Spann. During that year, he was able to learn the nuances of FBS football from the 2010 MAC Offensive Player of the Year. He also won over his teammates.

“Jas is a great guy. He’s down to earth. He’s always joking around but serious when he has to be,” quarterback Chandler Harnish said.

“It’s never easy for a guy when he comes from a junior college, because you don’t get treated like a freshman, you get thrown right into the fire.”

It was Hopkins’ unwavering consistency this spring, though, that caused Doeren to name him the team’s starting running back.

“For 15 days, he was hands-down the most consistent guy in the backfield,” Doeren said. “He’s just got to continue what he started.”

Hopkins will have to prove himself all over again when fall practice starts.

But with games against Army, Kansas and Wisconsin on the slate for the Huskies, he’ll have a little extra motivation to remain the Huskies’ lead running back.

“None of the big schools wanted me,” he said. “It gives me a little bit of fire, makes me want to play harder, let them know that they left something out there.”

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