When we talk about the all-time great Illini, many names come up. Grange, Butkus, George the elder, even Juice Williams. One name that does not come up often, but should, is Brad Hopkins.
Hailing from Moline High School, Brad Hopkins was an outstanding young footballer. Playing both defensive line and tight end, Hopkins was one who yearned to be on the field as often as possible. As if playing football was not enough, he was also a solid power forward for the high school basketball team.
Entering Illinois in the 1990 season, Hopkins blocked for future No. 1-overall pick Jeff George and the 9-2 Illini. Following his freshman season, however, Hopkins cemented himself as a starter for the Illini and never relinquished the job. In his junior year, Hopkins was named All-Big Ten. His senior campaign saw him flourish in Orange and Blue. As an All-Big Ten and All-American, Hopkins went on to have one of the best careers on the Illinois offensive line.
In the 1993 NFL Draft, Hopkins went on to be the No. 13-overall selection, drafted by the Houston Oilers — today’s Tennessee Titans — and played his entire professional career in Houston and Tennessee. His rookie campaign saw him named to several All-Rookie Teams, starting 11 games at left tackle.
The two-time Pro Bowler and 2000 NFL All Pro saw his long and illustrious career culminate in Super Bowl XXXIV. The Titans erased a 16-point deficit to tie the game late in the fourth quarter. Following the tie, the Kurt Warner led Rams scored on a 73-yard touchdown pass. The Titans marched down the field, and in one of the most heartbreaking losses in Super Bowl history, came up just a yard short of potentially tying the game as time expired.
Perhaps the greatest mark for Hopkins in his professional playing career was his longevity. Over 13 seasons, he saw action in 194 games while starting 188 of those contests. In his entire regular season career, Hopkins played in all but 13 games, an incredible feat for a guy who spent his career in the trenches. In 2005, Hopkins retired as the last player left over from the old Houston Oilers.
Perhaps the reason Brad Hopkins name is not mentioned in the same breath with the other all-time great Illini is due to his position. Linemen are rarely applauded for their hard work. However, they do just that. Work hard, game after game, grinding away to help their team succeed. Maybe that is the greatest compliment one can give him. He is there for others.
When I was new to The Champaign Room, I reached out to Brad to see if he was interested in joining me on our podcast. He quickly and kindly agreed. He didn’t have to do that, but his character drives him to be a good person.
Now, at age 47, Hopkins can be heard regularly on SiriusXM discussing both the NFL, college football, and other sports. He has three kids, Brycen (a senior tight end at Purdue); Colin (a catcher at Western Kentucky); and a daughter, Gentry (enrolling at Tennessee this fall as a member of the dance team). Hopkins is happily married to Kristen Hopkins and they have four dogs, Angel, Diesel, Duke, and Charlie.