State’s Best 2021 Punter & Kicker Prospect Receiving Constant Illini Interest

Matthew Stevens

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- One of the state’s best rated place kickers and punters is having constant conversations with the Illinois coaching staff and hoping for an Illini offer soon.

Collyn Hopkins, a senior-to-be at Bradley-Bourbonnais High School, has seen his national profile rise after being able to compete in these kicking camps and competitions across the country.

Hopkins, who is considered at an elite level of the 2021 recruiting class at both place kicking and punter, is currently rated No. 3 overall in punting in the 2021 recruiting class by and considered a Division 1 and FBS talent in that skill.

“Collyn is a very good player who has done so very well this spring,” said Jamie Kohl, director for Kohl's Professional Camps and currently trains several NFL kickers and punters. “I’m really looking forward to seeing Collyn perform at our national camp in a few weeks in Tennessee. There’s no doubt he has Division 1 ability and performs to that expectation.”

While also being one of the nation's best punter prospects in the 2021 class, Hopkins (seen here during Day 3 of the 2020 Hammer Kicking Academy Top 40 camp in Orlando) is also rated highly nationally in field goal kicking as well. Courtesy of Jeff Yurk/Freelance Photographer

The 6-foot-2, 210-pound prospect has told Illini Now/Sports Illustrated that he’s been having weekly phone conversations with Illinois special teams coordinator Bob Ligashesky and had a Zoom video conference meeting with the Illini special teams coaching staff last week.

“I’m hearing from and gaining a lot of interest from several schools but right now I’m trying to figure out what the best fit for me would be,” Hopkins said. “I think Illinois will always be among my top choices because of the obvious reasons. It’s my home state school and I want to major in engineering so from an educational basis, that would be a great fit.”

Hopkins has said Illinois, which will need an immediate replacement at punter after this 2020 season for All-Big Ten first-team selection Blake Hayes, is a program that could see his skills develop throughout his college career.

“When you talk with coaches constantly, you get a sense of who they are and what they’re about. What I feel about Coach Lig and what I like about him is he’s a very good people person in terms of how to teach,” Hopkins said. “In fact, I would say the entire Illinois staff are filled with good people.

Ligashesky has 31 years of coaching experience, including more than eight seasons as a special teams coordinator in the NFL. He spent the first 19 years of his coaching career in college football, most recently during a four-year stint at Pittsburgh (2000-03), before coaching in the NFL for the past 12 seasons.

Ligasheksky has been at the forefront of the Illini’s recent success with specialists that includes Hayes and kicker Chase McLaughlin. McLaughlin was the 2018 Big Ten Kicker of the Year after tying for the FBS lead with nine field goals made from 40 yards or more and ranking second in FBS with four field goals made of 50 yards or more. Before getting the Punter of the Year last season, Hayes was a 2018 All-Big Ten third team selection after being named honorable mention in 2017 as a true freshman.

“On the field, I know Coach Lig has a big background in the way he knows how to handle specialists at this level.”

Hopkins just finished a national competition in Orlando, Fla., hosted by Hammer Kicking Academy, where Hopkins finished the weekend as the one of the top nine combination kickers, meaning competing both at punter and kicker. The former soccer player eventually parlayed his leg skills to being on the football team and chuckled as he mentioned this might be the first fall he leaves soccer to fully concentrate his efforts on football. He now hopes what he calls “working his tail off” will result in eventually getting a scholarship offer from the Illini.

This constant attention Hopkins has given football kicking this spring and summer, even during the coronavirus pandemic because as he says it, kicking involves just “a grass field by yourself and perfecting your technique alone” has evolved the Bradley-Bourbonnais prospect into more than a nationally-relevant recruit.

"Collyn has a high ceiling with his talent and ability,” said Chris Husby, co-founder of National Kicking "He's got great size and a strong lever to really elevate the ball in all three phases of kicking/punting. After evaluating his film and training film, we invited Collyn to our recent Top 20 camp, and he put on a show. We are impressed as a staff with his deep kickoffs, strong punts, and accurate field goals. We are excited to see where he will end up next year at the collegiate level."

Collyn Hopkins, one of the state's best punter/kicker prospects, participates in a punting competition during the Hammer Kicking Academy Top 40 camp in Orlando in late June. Courtesy of Jeff Yurk/Freelance Photographer

Hopkins, who is also a 4.0 GPA student, is also certainly interested in how his college recruitment will evolve if the NCAA ever lifts the ban on in-person meetings and official campus visits. The NCAA extended their dead period through August but schools may have an opportunity, once the 2020 season begins, to visit recruits or bring them in to evaluate their talents.

“I’ve had a game day visit at Illinois and what I’m being told is coaches are still hesitant to offer scholarships to players that they haven’t seen live and in person,” Hopkins said. “What I know is I’m very confident that I’ve done what I can to convince them of my skills. I’ve put in the work and done what I’m supposed to do. And I still believe that if I do that, the offers and results will continue to come.”