Hopper, a promising receiver who walked away from Clemson just before they won it all, is now hoping to play at the next level
On the night of the college football national championship game, Germone Hopper slunk into the couch cushion at his friend’s apartment in downtown Charlotte. Hopper, a former Clemson wide receiver, didn’t watch all of the Tigers’ games this season. Sometimes he avoided being in the same room as a TV altogether. “Depending on my mood on a given day, I knew if I watched, it might make me bitter,” Hopper says. “I didn’t want to feel a certain way.”
But as the Tigers faced Alabama—a rematch of a national title game Hopper participated in a year earlier—he decided to cheer on Dabo Swinney, the coach who recruited him, and Deshaun Watson, the quarterback who delivered the bulk of his 71 career receptions, 797 yards and six touchdowns. “Coach [Swinney] always told me his plan for the football team was to win a championship by the time I was set to graduate,” Hopper says. “And he did.”
Hopper sat through the entire four-hour, eight-minute broadcast. Watson dazzled in a 35-31 win. Confetti littered Raymond James Stadium. After midnight, the 23-year-old Hopper sent his old coach a congratulatory text. According to Hopper, Swinney responded right away.
Hopper never became what he was capable of becoming at Clemson. A four-star recruit from Phillip O. Berry Academy in Charlotte, Hopper attracted a who’s who of ACC and SEC recruiters. He was a 6-foot receiver with seductive speed; at the 2011 North Carolina track high school finals, Hopper’s 10.73 in the 100 meters placed him just .03 seconds behind Todd Gurley. Hopper chose Clemson so as to be part of the nation’s greatest wide receiver factory, but also because it was a straight, 100-mile shot down I-85. He joined the program but spent nearly every off day commuting home.
Coaches asked Hopper if he wanted to redshirt in 2012, and he didn’t hesitate to agree. After all, a depth chart featuring Sammy Watkins, DeAndre Hopkins and Martavis Bryant is not easy to crack. In 2013 Hopper returned kickoffs and filled in at receiver when Watkins needed a breather.
Hopper served two brief suspensions, for an undisclosed violation of team rules and for what he describes as not consistently fulfilling study hall hours. “I’ve learned from those experiences,” Hopper says. “You need to buy into the commitment that the coaches want you to buy into.” As he toggled up and down the depth chart for three years, Hopper was known for a couple of spectacular games, a few frustrating drops and briefly as a social media star around the 2015 Orange Bowl, when his locker-room-galvanizing dance moves went viral. (Hopper is said to have taught Swinney how to dab).
In the 2015 national title game, Hopper played sparingly: 15 snaps, targeted by Watson just once (an incompletion). All the while, he had been dealing with pressures at home. His girlfriend gave birth to their daughter in May, and he felt the guilt that comes with the distance between a parent and child. Hopper never knew his father; he has been in prison Hopper’s whole life. “I didn’t want that for my child,” Hopper says. “I felt I needed to be there.” And so about two weeks after the title game, Hopper called his position coach: “I think it would be best for me to finish out school here and transfer somewhere closer to home.”
And just like that, Hopper’s name was removed from Clemson’s roster. The plan was to be a grad transfer, perhaps slide down to the FCS or Division II level, play the 2016 season and enter the NFL draft. “But life steered me in a different direction,” he says. Instead Hopper took a part-time job at his godfather’s barbershop as a receptionist, earning $10 an hour, 20 hours a week. He moved in with his mom. He worked with a local trainer before and after shifts to stay in football shape, and needed to provide food not only for himself but for his child every day. It was the first fall since he was 6 years old that he was not a part of a team. “It was the first time in my life I felt like I needed to make decisions for myself,” he says.
Asked about regrets, Hopper is candid: “I learned not to make decisions based off emotion. I learned not to run away from my problems but to face them. I also learned that being away from football, I can’t take it for granted any more, like it was given to me.”
Hopper is generating some interest from NFL teams. He has maintained good relationships with the Clemson program; he visited with coaches last weekend and worked out at the facility. He will participate in Clemson’s pro day on March 21. An NFL scout familiar with Hopper called him an “intriguing talent” with value on special teams. But with inconsistency issues and having been away from the game for a year, Hopper has only an outside chance of being drafted. He should, however, get picked up by a team. All he wants is to get back in.