The ACC Kickoff (aka media days) is fast approaching. I’ll be using the blog to count down to what we media members consider the unofficial start of the football season. This isn’t a list of the 25 best players on Virginia Tech’s roster. It’s a list of 25 things/people that will determine whether the Hokies’ 2012 season is a success or not. That includes players and coaches from both Virginia Tech and, occasionally, a few of its opponents.
No. 20: Antoine and Derrick Hopkins, defensive tackles
For the first five games last season, Antoine and Derrick Hopkins played side-by-side in the lineup, something no pair of brothers had done at Virginia Tech since linebackers Blake and Brett Warren in the mid-2000′s.
That ended abruptly in the in Week 5 last October against Clemson when Antoine tore his right ACL, forcing him out of action for the rest of the year.
Now, the brothers from Highland Springs known as “Hop” and “Skip” will be back in the same lineup for one more go-around, and Virginia Tech needs them to get back to their 2011 form.
Antoine was having a solid season prior to the injury, The 318-pound tackle, who is the heaviest defensive lineman on the roster, had only eight tackles in five games, but he was being disruptive, with six quarterback hurries, two pass deflections and two pass breakups while often commanding double teams.
Derrick, a 305-pound junior who is younger by a year, went from a reserve to a mainstay on the line, thriving in Antoine’s absence and finishing with 51 tackles, five tackles for a loss, three sacks and 12 quarterback hurries. He was snubbed from the All-ACC teams but certainly warranted consideration.
The two figure to reprise their starting roles, although sophomore Luther Maddy could push Antoine for serious playing time and even a starting spot after starring on the defensive side of the ball this spring.
Antoine’s recovery from his ACL injury has gone to plan. The senior was moving nicely in the spring, although Tech kept him out of contact drills as a precaution. He’s been cleared as a full go this summer, according to Frank Beamer‘s website.
Coaches have been open in saying they’d like to see Antoine’s motor go all the time. Defensive line coach Charley Wiles said the senior taps into about 90 percent of his ability, adding that the other 10 percent could be the difference between being drafted or not. That’s an area where Derrick has had a positive effect on his older brother.
If the duo can tap into that potential — and stay healthy — it would be a boon to the heart of Virginia Tech’s defensive line, a group the Hokies want to be dominant this season.
Coming Tuesday: He’s from the beach.