ALL-AREA: Tarboro's Hopkins finds maturity in path to individual title
BY JESSIE H. NUNERY
Thursday, April 20, 2017
TARBORO — There might have been some words said, but in the moment, only the gesture mattered.
On Feb. 21, seconds after winning the individual state title that had eluded him the previous two years, Tarboro senior Quadarrius Hopkins and Vikings coach Andrew Harding shared a hug that had been forming during the course of the past three years.
Hopkins, the Telegram’s 2016-17 All-Area Wrestler of the Year, locked his 152-pound frame with Harding, one of just a few people who knew how much of a journey it was for Hopkins to be in such a position.
“For the rest of his life, he is a champion,” Harding said. “Nobody can take that away from him.”
Hopkins was almost literally labeled coming into Tarboro High. As a freshman, he was part of the HOPE program, which is on Tarboro High’s campus and open to middle- and high school-aged youth of Edgecombe County who haven’t taken a direct path academically or socially.
It wasn’t until the second semester of Hopkins’ freshman year that he began daily interaction with Harding. There was so much anger — a lot having to do with an uneven family situation at home —- that nobody could get through to Hopkins. Three or four times a day, Harding would get an email about Hopkins’ behavior. The two began to connect, with the coach imploring Hopkins to calm down.
This wasn’t Harding’s first encounter with a student like Hopkins. The assistant football coach can rattle off stories of youth he has seen choose paths right and wrong.
Through the conversation and the coaching, Harding knew Hopkins wanted to change, and ultimately, he wanted people who would be consistent with him. Hopkins knew peers who were writing him off as a lost case.
“Wrestling changed me,” Hopkins said. “It showed me discipline, and I could use my anger as a release.”
Hopkins was a physical wrestler earlier in his career, using more aggression than technique as an underclassman. Still, he finished fourth in the state as a sophomore and third as a junior.
This year, he lost only four matches, and he continued to put his trust into Harding and the Vikings’ co-coach, Kevin Rawls. Rawls has always been the strategist behind Hopkins’ success. Hopkins always attacked his opponent’s upper body, and then went for a takedown. That strategy worked, but it was at the state championship where the understudy cashed in on a new technique his coach had been imploring him to use all season.
When Hopkins pulled out the move in the state championship match in Winston-Salem, it helped give him an early 7-0 advantage in roughly a minute.
Hopkins would not have pulled off the new move three years ago, Harding said, because the coaching staff did not have his trust.
As a senior who has seen what guidance can do for his life, Hopkins found himself trusting his instincts, and minutes later, he was embracing supporters like Rawls and Harding, celebrating the biggest athletics accomplishment of his life.
For an outsider, it’s at times hard to tell that Hopkins ever got into trouble. He addresses his elders with “yes sir” and “yes ma’am.”
He smiles often.
He has a purpose.
Instead of being pulled aside in the middle of the school day because he does something wrong, Hopkins now ventures over to Harding’s classroom unwarranted, simply to check in or to talk. The relationship between the two has grown to an ultimate level of trust, so much so that Harding and Hopkins, who have no similar physical characteristics, are known as father and son within the walls of Tarboro High.
Just like getting to become a state champion was not an overnight feat, the same can be said for Hopkins’ development. Harding said Hopkins’ might revert to an old habit every now and then, but it immediately turns into the latter acknowledging his mistake and vowing to do better the next time.
Hopkins plans to enroll in the National Guard after a high school graduation that will be the first among his immediate family.
“It makes me proud,” Hopkins said. “I’m breaking the family history. I know it will make my parents extremely proud. They’ve been teaching me to do the right things. Now, it’s time for me to take care of them.”
Hopkins wonders what could have been if he had been able to balance school, behavior and wrestling an an earlier age.
“Maybe I could have been a three-time state champion,” Hopkins said.
That success might not have been a good thing. Although Harding wanted Hopkins to eventually win a title, he was equally as concerned with his student-athlete’s maturity to be able to handle success so soon.
Instead, it took guidance from Tarboro football coach Jeff Craddock, year-round wrestling coaches, teachers and administrators.
If Tarboro High School needed an example of how much a young man can change in four years, Hopkins would be a strong candidate.
He already has a message that will stand up in any generation.
“Don’t be a follower, be a leader,” Hopkins said. “Pick your path wisely, and don’t be afraid to be the odd guy. I’d rather be the odd guy, than to be a follower.”
All-Area Wrestling Team
Quaddarius Hopkins, Tarboro
Kendrick Watson, Southern Nash
Keyonte Williams, Rocky Mount High
Rahsun Lawerence, Rocky Mount High
Raquavius Hopkins, Tarboro
Shaimeaq Deloatch (Tarboro), David Jacob (Rocky Mount High), Vyshaun Richardson (Southern Nash).