ST. CHARLES – St. Charles East’s Phil Hopper didn’t hesitate when asked what drove him to shed 25 pounds as he resculpted his body in preparation for his senior football season.
“Coach Fields yelling ‘You’re not fast enough’ last year,” Hopper said. “I kind of wanted to prove to him that I could get fast enough so I could get on the field.”
Hopper put in the work, and East coach Mike Fields has taken notice. The Saints’ starting H-back has emerged as a valuable piece of the offense for the 2-0 Saints, who are gearing up for a visit Friday from St. Charles North.
“He’s a different player than he was last year,” Fields said. “He’s doing everything in the world we ask him to do.”
Hopper said he slimmed down from 205 pounds to 180 after taking up track and field last spring for the first time in high school, running the 200 meters. He also revamped his eating habits.
“It was impressive for me,” East senior quarterback Jimmy Mitchell said. “I’ve known him for a long time and he wasn’t always the thinnest kid. He doesn’t like cardio all the time, so to see him actually go out and do that, it meant a lot to the teammates. They knew he was trying to get better.”
The H-back position – a cross between tight end and fullback – has major blocking responsibilities, and with that in mind, Hopper added some muscle during the summer, and is playing at about 190 pounds.
Last season, he observed closely as former Saints star Joe Hoscheit thrived at H-back.
“It was awesome,” Hopper said. “He was the best at what he did, so I couldn’t have learned from anybody better than Joe.”
Hopper caught a 4-yard touchdown pass as part of the Saints’ second half outburst last week in a 41-26 win against Jacobs.
He originally set his sights on playing receiver this season before being slotted at H-back, and Mitchell said he’s a quality target.
“He’s always had the hands since I’ve been playing with him but the coaches were stressing he wasn’t fast enough, he couldn’t do this, couldn’t do that,” Mitchell said. “He kind of took what all the coaches said to him, kind of took all of it in, and just used it as motivation in the offseason to get better.”
Hopper is a central figure in East’s tight-knit senior class, coming up with the idea for the “Score for Scott” campaign that the Saints launched to honor the deceased father of Saints senior Mitch Munroe. Fields said East will wear pink socks Friday to promote cancer awareness, coinciding with the annual Kick-A-Thon that takes place when East and North square off.
East’s 2-0 start is promising but Hopper said the Saints are maintaining a workmanlike mindset.
“We’re going to go into it like we’re 0-0,” Hopper said. “We’ve worked just as hard if not harder this week, like we’re facing the best team in the world.
“We’re going to go in and do our best. We’re going to have tons of fans there. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”