In the hours leading up to kickoff of the last Als’ game before the bye-week break, the last of Dan Hawkins’ tenure as it would turn out, Moton Hopkins lll was sharing a bit of his soul on the sidelines.
“It’s almost harder to be here, this close, and still not be playing.”
Hopkins can be forgiven for saying it aloud, but don’t feel sorry for him. In his family, there’s no feeling sorry.
“Just pray and do what you got to do, we’ve all had our ordeals. Stay together and keep pushing forward."
After all, the 26-year old defensive tackle had only just endured a career-threatening blood clot that easily could have killed him had he stepped on his flight bound for 2012 training camp. Sitting out and staying home the entire season might feel like hell, but it was only the latest test of faith and perseverance for the Hopkins family.
“To a point it is harder to be so close and not playing,” says the son of a US Air Force veteran who was born in Miami but raised in towns ranging from Anchorage, Alaska back to Tampa, Florida, Georgia and finally settling in San Antonio, Texas.
“It’s a different beast to be on the sideline and waiting.”
Football, like life, can be cruel but fair. During that win over the Eskimos, Scooter Berry would suffer a season-ending knee injury. Berry was given opportunity last season in part because of a list of injuries so lengthy Hopkins was seemingly forgotten.
Five weeks as a healthy scratch on the 2013 46-man roster was a huge step up from near-death experience.
Last spring, Hopkins felt he was in the best shape of his life, poised to claim a starting job for a full season. His D-line coach Mike Sinclair, former NFL All-pro, felt he had a high motor and nothing but upside.
|The long road back|
The time is now for Alouettes DL Moton Hopkins who's postponed arrival to Montreal last year could have cost him his life. Now he is set to return to the field for the first time since 2011 against the Argonauts on Thursday after battling through a blod clot that put his career on hold.
Then came the pain in his side.
“Sharpshooting” pains doubled him over. Moton thought it was from a tough abs workday. His mother Michelle knows pain. She made him go to ER at the local military base. A loophole in the family veterans benefits meant despite a clot suspected, Moton had to wait to be taken to yet another hospital.
“If I got on that plane (to Als camp in 2012) it would have killed me for sure.”
“A chance to come back after missing a whole year? That doesn’t happen in sports.”
“My story from high school to now is a bunch of ups and downs, but I feel I’m blessed. I never thought I’d be able to get a shot at pro football and I had to sit out a year after college (Tulsa) before Winnipeg called. Then I got released.”
“Coming to Montreal ...even if it ends tomorrow I can’t complain.”
Hopkins will move back in at nose tackle as he did in 2011, and the gut-check time that was 2012 will be forgotten.
Throughout his year in football limbo, GM Jim Popp, now back in the dual role as interim head coach, kept in touch.
“It was nice to be valued as a person. I had texts from Coach Trestman (now with the Chicago Bears), Coach Mike (Sinclair---still with Trestman), and Coach JM (Jean-Marc Edme, now Alouette scout).
“That they would check in meant a lot. My squad is still my team.”
The only action Hopkins saw was in haunting dreams or in glimpses of games on television wherever and whenever he could find the CFL down in Texas.
“I had dreams of being out there and making sacks. Football’s so important to us, when you’re not playing you still eat and sleep it. That playoff loss (2012 East Semifinal) was heart-breaking.”
But no feeling sorry. Just four years before, his Mom had her own brush with death.
“Mom got sick in 2008,” Hopkins recalls. “It messed up her intestines---she almost passed away and has been in and out of hospital ever since, still dealing with it.”
Just deal. May as well be the family motto.
Moton has younger twin brothers. Mark is hoping to take his basketball skills from junior college level to Western Washington. Mathew, age 22, has just finished high school. He’s living life with what some might call “severe” autism.
“He can’t speak,” reveals Moton. “He’s mentally younger. I don’t think he’s aware I play football. He’s been to a few of my high school games, but he was most interested in the snack line.”
“Having to watch Mathew and Mom’s situation, it’s so hard for me to complain,” he admits. “I’m human--- I still do. He and Mom have been through so much. It’s a humbling experience.
“They made me a better person.”
Moton didn’t play many sports as a kid. He helped keep an eye on the twins. His father, Moton ll, admired Michael Jordan and basketball took precedence over football.
A growth-spurt in high school took care of that.
“The coach tried me at fullback,” Hopkins lll recalls. “I’d never really watched the game, so that didn’t work out. Then they said ‘go chase the guy with the ball’.”
In the Hopkins family you chase a dream and don’t give up on anyone, or anything.
Moton still drives his aunt’s 1998 Honda Accord. Not easy for a 6’2, 277-pounder. But you never look a gift-horse in the mouth, even if it’s a 2-door with 218,000 miles (351,000 km!) on her.
“She’s in really good condition. I can still take it on long trips,” Moton says convincingly. He is a former car salesman, after college. “I’m gonna need something bigger soon.”
We’re speaking just after he’s visited his fallen teammate Scooter, now recuperating after knee surgery.
“The guys have been flying around,” says Moton, anxious to finally be a part of it again. “They play with passion, we’ve been creating turnovers and getting after people.”
Maybe the family will finally get to Canada to see him play? It would be an ordeal for Mathew.
“My Mom has her passport, but Dad’s military one expired. Hopefully they can get up at some point.”
Let me suggest the 101st Grey Cup in Regina. It’s just 4 days beyond Moton’s 27th birthday.
Don’t put it past him to be there. Even if he insists on driving his own car.
Rick Moffat is the Voice of the Montreal Alouettes on CJAD 800. He works alongside former CFL Dave Mudge. Moffat's first attended Grey Cup was as a fan in '77 - the infamous Tony Proudfoot "Staple Game". Rick is proud to say he had his first beer at an Als' game during the Marv Levy Era. Follow Rick on Twitter @RickMoffat.