By Lee Davis
Jack Hopkins is a man who has always had a keen sense of his surroundings.
The former Vestavia Hills soccer star, who graduated from Marshall University last spring, is spending his summer performing environmental field work in Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina. In the fall, Hopkins will pursue a master’s degree in environmental sciences at Virginia Commonwealth University.
“I really like being outdoors,” Hopkins said. “It’s interesting to work with wildlife and see the problems that animals in the wild face on a daily basis. I see the work as a calling to preserve what God gave us.”
Hopkins is accustomed to excelling in the outdoors. In high school, he led the Vestavia Steamers to three consecutive state championships in 2010-12 and was named Alabama Gatorade Soccer Player of the Year in his season. Also an outstanding student, Hopkins earned an academic and soccer scholarship to Marshall.
Upon arriving on campus, Hopkins learned that college soccer was a different world from what he’d seen at the high school and club levels.
“The most obvious difference was the speed of the game,” he explained. “Everything is done at a much faster pace. There’s a little more physicality at the college level, too. But sheer speed of the game was what stood out.”
Hopkins adjusted quickly, earning a spot on the Conference USA All-Freshman team in his first year. He excelled academically as well, but he admits that it wasn’t easy.
“The most important thing is to get on a schedule or a routine from the beginning,” Hopkins said. “If you’re playing soccer, you’re going to be traveling and missing classes during the week. It’s important to turn assignments in early. I also had friends in my classes that kept me informed with what was going on while I was absent.”
Cultivating a relationship with his instructors was a key to academic success as well.
“Some professors were very cooperative,” he said. “They didn’t make the classwork any easier, but they were willing to work with me about giving assignments early and were helpful as far as when I could turn them in.”
Hopkins mastered the balance between school and soccer. He qualified for the Dean’s List for eight semesters, earned Conference All-Academic Honors in 2014 and 2015, and placed on the Conference Commissioners Honor Roll three times.
Hopkins also earned the prestigious Conference USA Jim Castaneda Postgraduate Scholarship for 2016. He graduated Summa Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Science degree in biology with a minor in chemistry.
On the soccer field, Hopkins was named team captain while leading the Thundering Herd to the conference tournament quarterfinals in 2014 and the tournament finals the following season. He had an outstanding senior year, despite having played much of the season with torn cartilage in his knee.
If that wasn’t enough, Hopkins spent the summer of 2015 playing for the Chattanooga franchise in the National Premier Soccer League, a semi-professional circuit.
With his college soccer career at an end, Hopkins had mixed emotions about leaving the sport that has been a major part of his life since childhood.
“I won’t miss going to the field at 6 a.m. for a workout, but I will miss the game, the competition and the friendships with other players and coaches,” he said. “But the time has come to move on.”
After graduation, Hopkins went to the Netherlands Antilles as part of a Marshall University Studies Abroad program to do studies on fish and coral restoration projects. He hopes to use his degrees in a career related to environmental engineering.
“It’s an opportunity to do something I love that will make the world a better place,” Hopkins said. “I couldn’t ask for anything more than that.”
On the soccer field and in the classroom, Jack Hopkins always knew how to go in the right direction.