Jan. 26, 2013
By Scott Kotick (@ScottKotick), Seminoles.com
"The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them. He delivers them from all their troubles. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. The righteous person may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all."
It's often said that a man can see himself in a verse. Just a few short sentences somehow give the right words at that very moment when a man needs them the most. Through the good and the bad, Dustin Hopkins' football career has been illuminated by Psalm 34.
"In my mind coming into college, I pictured myself having a lot of good moments, but you don't really think of the bad moments in the future," Hopkins said. "You try not to picture those things happening because sometimes they'll come to fruition just by thinking something like that. I thought a lot about the good, and not so much about the bad, and it's been very interesting."
It what can be the loneliest position in all of sports, Hopkins has endured those moments that kickers have nightmares about, when the cheering stops and the silence begins.
"It was frustrating knowing that you let down your teammates, didn't represent your family, you wanted to play well for the University, all those things," Hopkins said. "Knowing that you didn't do that and you had the opportunity, it's something that you pride yourself on as a kicker. Being clutch, being able to capitalize on your opportunities because you only get so many."
His first chance came in 2010. With the game on the line against North Carolina, Hopkins watched his field goal sail wide right.
But in that moment where the world couldn't get any smaller and the future seemed uncertain came hope. Something changed as soon as he walked off the field. Psalm 34 became more real to him than ever.
"He came in here and I don't even think he showered, he just came in here to his locker and started reading the Bible," Dax Dellenbach said. "He found his peace with God after his mess up and went back to what he knows, and that's his religion. He went back there and felt comfortable again."
"You have a guy who's sitting down to read his Bible after he's just missed a kick for a game and everybody else is so down and he's reading his Bible," Chris Revell said. "All of a sudden he's upbeat and it's like something that has got to be going on with that. I think it really effected a whole lot of people."
"Bob Thomas (FSU Sports Information) came up to me and said 'if you don't want to talk to the media, it's ok.' But I said I wanted to talk to them," Hopkins said. "I had that small picture and that snapshot, but I didn't have the bigger picture to see how God was going to work through the whole thing."
And it would work just as Psalm 34 described. Hopkins didn't need to see the kick in order to believe, he had faith that something would come.
Just one week later, his answer came like thunder through his golden right foot.
"Some kickers never get an opportunity to kick a game winner for years or maybe never," Hopkins said. "I was praying for the opportunity again, and I wanted it the next week. I asked God for that opportunity again, because when you fall off the horse, you want to get back on. You want to overcome that fear that you don't want to fail. I was praying 'Lord, help me to glorify you through this kick, and that's it. Whether it's a make or a miss, I know you're going to be glorified through this.'"
What makes Hopkins unique is that the outcome does not phase him. While a miss may sting and a make might bring a smile to his face, the demeanor and attitude never change.
The records and accolades will fade. But his impact on teammates, fans, and family will last for a lifetime.
"Trey was sitting at the house with Candi and he said, 'Mom, can I take my Bible with the team?'" head coach Jimbo Fisher said. "She asked what made him think of that, and he said Dustin brings his Bible every day and reads out of it, and I'd like to be able to read it when Clint (Purvis) goes through the Scripture and be able to do that. Everybody thinks about the bad things that come about it, but my son who is 11 wants to take his Bible so he can have it during chapel when Clint does our chapel. If that's not an influence on people when you talk about a person as an athlete, student, individual, and what he is as a Christian and man of God and the influence he can have on little kids, to me that speaks volumes of Dustin and what he stands for."
"He makes a point to try to know every single person on the team and at least talk to them to see how they're doing," Revell said. "It's one of those things that you don't know the effect you're having and I'm sure he's had a huge effect on a bunch of people's lives by the fact that he took time to just go over and talk to them."
"It was just awesome to see how many opportunities that gave me to speak different churches, schools, and FCA groups because of that miss more so than the make," Hopkins said.
And while he had other chances at game winning kicks that didn't go his way, he never wavered. Two years as a Lou Groza Award finalist, and he did not walk home with the trophy. But as the words from Psalm 34 became even more vibrant, Hopkins knew the blessing was not far off.
"I never journal, but I did because some people I was talking to said it would be wise if I did," Hopkins said. "I wrote that I don't want to just be another kicker, I want to set records. At the end of last year, I came across it and looked at it and thought that was ironic and very much a blessing being on this end, seeing the highs and lows that the Lord has brought me through. How that has helped me grow as a person and player, and just help develop my character through adversity has been very rewarding on the back end."
Less than one year later, Hopkins did indeed set records. He is now the NCAA leader in career field goals made, both Florida State and the ACC's all-time scoring leader, and holds the career scoring record in the NCAA among kickers.
But his definition does not come from those accolades or awards. They are merely an example of what it means to persevere, to trust, and to be part of a bigger picture.
"For somebody to come in and not change at all the whole time he was here, to stand firm in what he believes in and not let anything sway him either way," Revell said. "It's probably one of the biggest things because everybody knows that he's the best kicker to ever play college football, but at the same time you have a guy who is so devout in his faith. That's what a lot of people don't realize, how strength his faith is."
"Sometimes it's hard to see the big picture when your'e in the moment in those tough times," Hopkins said. "When you can step back and see all the steps and all the little things and the people who had a part in making you who you are in four year period in college, all I can say is that it's very much a blessing."
Hopkins' legacy as Florida State will be greater than just football and extends beyond this field. In every situation, every game, every moment, Hopkins triumphed because he played for something greater than himself. The righteous person may have many troubles, but the Lord delvers him from them all.