- Max Olson, ESPN Staff Writer
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AUSTIN, Texas -- The guy who will be Texas’ first offensive lineman drafted in six years didn’t dream of playing in the NFL. No, Trey Hopkins wanted to be an anesthesiologist. These days, he’s working toward a different profession: Physical therapist.
The Longhorns’ senior offensive guard has job shadowed at a local rehab center and interned at Austin Sports Medicine. He’s planning for a long future in the business, no matter when his playing days end.
“As far as the NFL and physical therapy, I’m kind of taking those kind of things one step at a time,” Hopkins said. “Both are things I’d love to do. Whichever happens, happens. I’m just making sure both options are available.”
Coming out of high school, Hopkins knew his future: He’d be in the medical profession no matter what. He gave no thought to being an NFL player. He realizes now that’s going to be an option.
Hopkins is the 6-foot-4, 300-pound unsung hero of the Texas offense. He’s worn burnt orange for 43 games and has started 35. The left guard can play every position on a line and was once a 13-game starter at right tackle. He’s everything a coach could ask for, and one of the players line coach Stacy Searels trusts most.
“I like everything about Trey, to be honest with you,” Searels said. “He’s our most consistent lineman in grading. He has not given up a sack. Very few pressures. The kid is really solid. He’s a leader. No negatives off the field. Smart kid. He’s the kind of player you want.”
He’s quietly put together a resume that will impress NFL personnel men. There hasn’t been a Longhorns lineman drafted since tackle Tony Hills went to the Steelers in the fourth round in 2008. Hills, by the way, was an elite tight end prospect in high school. Back in the Class of 2003. So, yes, it’s been a while.
Hopkins laughs when asked about breaking that strange streak.
“To know I would be starting that pipeline back up for offensive linemen would be great,” he said.
But, again, this was a goal he only recently began taking seriously.
The past year changed his vision. A 63-21 beatdown from a far more physical Oklahoma team last October was the catalyst. Hopkins decided it was time to reevaluate.
“I really thought about everything I was doing. I thought about how important it was to me,” he said. “If it is that important, why not be more consistent? Why allow yourself to be held back by something?”
The next game, a home win against Baylor, was the first in Hopkins’ career where he truly felt he’d played a great game.
“That’s the mentality I bring into every game now: How important is it to you?” Hopkins said.
His dedication was put to the test in December, when team doctors determined Hopkins would need surgery for a stress fracture in his right leg. According to Searels, he’d had been playing through the fracture and shin splints for a while. Hopkins toughed it out and waited until after the regular season finale for the bad news.
He missed the Alamo Bowl. He missed spring practices. And he hated every second of it. Hopkins considered those months missed easily the most difficult of his college career, and those “terrible, completely awful” days brought new perspective.
“It just makes you think, ‘I really can’t live without playing this game,’” he said.
The guys he lines up next to on a weekly basis only deepen his love. Hopkins helps tie this offensive line together. It’s a quirky group led by veterans who have made a combined 151 career starts.
The guys who’ve been doing this a long time -- Hopkins, Mason Walters, Dominic Espinosa, Donald Hawkins, Josh Cochran -- go out to eat together and play video games. They mess with each other in one long, running group text message. Sometimes, they’ll even trade books.
Well, OK, that’s just Hopkins and Walters. It started when Walters suggested Hopkins try “1984.” He enjoyed it. So Walters recommended a personal favorite, “Catch 22.”
“He starts reading it and he says, ‘Man, this is terrible. It’s an awful book. It’s not a good book, Mason,’” Walters said. “Maybe I was being a little abstract in my reading of it and trying to connect too many dots, and he’s trying to read it at face value. So that was the end of the book club. But I think he’s reading ‘Wuthering Heights’ now…”
Walters is disappointed Hopkins doesn’t share his cynical view of bureaucracy, but they’ve still formed a bond that makes them a special duo. It’s almost a good cop-bad cop dynamic.
“I mean, I’m kind of the even-keeled guy,” Hopkins said. “I’m not really the fire-starter like Mason is. I would say it’s Mason’s job to get everybody going.”
The Texas line certainly got going last Saturday. One year after Hopkins wondered what this game meant to him, he and his fellow lineman are coming off their finest performance of the season.
This time, they were the ones owning Oklahoma at the line of scrimmage, paving the way for 59 carries and 255 rushing yards. He finally got to put on the Golden Hat.
“It’s indescribable,” Hopkins said after the game. “I’m really proud of my fellow seniors and really proud of this group. To go through all the lows we’ve gone through and finally accomplish this big milestone is great for all of us.”
Keep this up and Hopkins really won’t have a choice. His career as a physical therapist will just have to wait.