Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXI, No. 26
 
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
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(Photo by Bill Allen/NJ SportAction)
COVER GUY: Former Princeton High star defensive back Sascha Hopson moves to ball last week as he practiced for the East squad for this Thursday's Sunshine Football Classic all-star game. Hopson, who will be continuing his football career this fall at Moravian College in Bethlehem, Pa., will look to be around the ball in the all-star game which is being played at The College of New Jersey football stadium.

Hopson's Heady Play, Aggressiveness Helps PHS Star Make Sunshine Classic

Lance Williams

Legendary Notre Dame football coach Knute Rockne once said that "football is a game played with arms, legs, and shoulders but mostly from the neck up." Former Princeton High School star defensive back Sascha Hopson is living proof of the verity of this claim.

"I don't know why I'm in the secondary — I'm slow," the easygoing Hopson said. "But I have a high football IQ, I just know what's going on out there."

And coaches throughout the Colonial Valley Confe-rence have noticed. Despite his lack of speed, Hopson — who started at defensive back for the Little Tigers since his sophomore season — was recently selected as one of the Mercer County all-stars who will play for the East squad in the 11th annual Sunshine Football Classic all-star game this Thursday at The College of New Jersey football stadium.

For the 6'0, 205-pound Hopson, who plans to continue his football career at Moravian College in Bethlehem, Pa. this fall, the invitation to the Sunshine Bowl is the icing on the cake of a high school career that started out as less than promising.

"It's such an honor to be selected for this game," he said. "It's just nice to know that other people have noticed what you've done over the past few years."

Going into his sophomore season, Hopson didn't appear to have the natural ability- necessary to be a standout football player. He was a sluggish, 140-pound kid who didn't have a true position on the field. Yet all it took was the confidence of one coach to ignite Hopson's successful playing career.

"When [PHS head] coach [Steve] Everette came into the program, he was really the first person to believe in me as a football player," Hopson said.

"At the end of my freshman season, he sat me down in the weight room, we watched some films of defensive backs and he said to me 'this is what you're going to be doing next year.' I can't tell you really why he trusted me, but that was definitely the first step in my development as a football player."

In his sophomore season, Hopson responded to his coach's faith by earning an unlikely starting role at defensive back on an upstart Princeton team which finished the 2004 season with a 5-5 record, one game short of qualifying for the state playoffs. According to Hopson, becoming a starter that season remains his biggest accomplishment on the field to date.

Although he lacked the experience necessary at that point to be a "smart" player and was neither large nor fast, the strong safety compensated for his shortcomings with the one quality common to all standout defensive players — a knack for hard-hitting.

"During the first half of my sophomore season, I had no clue what I was doing," he said. "But I hit hard. I always thought that although the receiver might catch it, I would try to make sure he didn't hold on to it."

Even though his highlight reel hits earned Hopson all-conference honors, he knew he had a lot of room to improve.

In the off-season, Hopson dedicated himself to the weight room and the team's conditioning program, eventually working himself into one of the elite defensive backs in the county. In the 2005 season, after packing on 20 pounds of muscle to his previously wiry frame, the strong safety was tied for the lead in interceptions in the CVC.

His contributions helped the Little Tigers to 6-4 season, the team's best mark in over a decade. The defensive unit also reached new heights, as the Little Tigers shut out three teams on the season.

"When our offense was struggling, the defense really came together and took pride in fighting for every yard," he said.

This past season Hopson continued his growth as a player, bulking up to 205 pounds and continuing his success on the field. Although he did not record an interception for the year, he matured into one of the key leaders of the defensive unit and was also one of the team's leading tacklers.

Furthermore, Hopson used his talents and instincts on the other side of the ball, doubling as a wide receiver in some games. "I loved playing receiver," he said. "And I had a touchdown so that was exciting. But I never liked that I couldn't hit anyone."

Despite the senior's efforts, however, Princeton started 0-4 but did rebound to finish with a 4-6 record.

Although his PHS career is behind him, Hopson is thrilled about the opportunity to play in the Sunshine Classic. According to the defensive star, he is using the practices and workouts as preparation for his upcoming college career at Division-III Moravian.

"This game is definitely a good transition for me because I do expect to play in college," he said. "It's a great learning experience going to practice every day; each team has their own way of doing things, seeing it all come together with all of this talent on the field is kind of cool — I'm always learning out there."

Although he described the practices as somewhat relaxed, Hopson also expressed his excitement for strapping on the pads one last time as a high-schooler.

"It's nice to put the pads back on and hit before I go to school," said Hopson. "This is right between the high school season and training camp at Moravian, so I guess the game will make sure I won't forget how to hit before going up there."

In addition to the Sunshine practices, Hopson is preparing for the next level by following the training regimen sent to him by the Moravian's coaching staff.

"It's a tough program but it could be worse," he said. "It's all of the stuff I've always been doing, just a lot more of it. Coach Everette did a really good job on conditioning so it is not overwhelming to me, but it will be tough for sure."

Although Hopson will have to prove himself all over again when he arrives at training camp in a few weeks, if his high school career is any indication, he certainly seems up to the challenge.

"I'm really just focused on learning what they're teaching us and finding some way to stand out," asserted Hopson. "I'm not sure if they play freshman but I think I bring a lot to the table in terms of football IQ and hitting. I just want to be noticed."

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