TAHLEQUAH — Steven Hopper expected to be racking up tackles — not avoiding them — in 2013.
Northeastern State’s 6-foot, 190-pound sophomore started the year at strong safety behind Victor Johnson. He played against both Pittsburg State and Missouri Southern but didn’t record a tackle in either contest.
“Safety was the position he had been recruited at out of high school,” Northeastern State head coach Kenny Evans said of Hopper, who originally committed to the University of Houston before signing with NSU in 2010. “Houston was going to play him (at safety). We’re just glad he’s here.”
Then, as NSU’s injuries started to mount up after only two weeks into the regular season, Hopper was asked to return a position that he was quite familiar with in high school: running back.
Hopper nickel and dimed yardage against Emporia State and Washburn for a grand total of 23 yards on 11 carries, but then he posted an 86-yard performance against Northwest Missouri State in Week 5. He started to gain more playing time as the season trudged along, seeing plenty of action against both Eastern New Mexico and Central Missouri.
Then came a day he won’t soon forget over the weekend.
Hopper carried the ball 25 times for 228 yards and three touchdowns, resulting in the first NSU player to rush for 200-plus yards since Carlton Booe did it in 1999.
Not bad for a guy who thought he’d still be trying to shut down opposing offenses.
“I expected the whole entire year to play safety,” said Hopper, a former standout at Broken Arrow High School. “Never once did I think I was going to get the opportunity to come back to running back. We had a lot of running backs early on...so I didn’t expect to get back to running back this year. I’m very thankful and very blessed to have the opportunity again.”