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Dave Hopkins created a football success at Holy Family Catholic

Dave Hopkins (right) begins his 25th season as a high school varsity head coach this week. He is pictured with his son, Hank, who will be his starting quarterback on the Holy Family Fire team this fall.

The Holy Family Fire football team has been one of the premier high school programs in Minnesota over the past five seasons.

The Fire is a team that Coach Dave Hopkins built from the ground up.

Hopkins was hired at Holy Family Catholic High School in 2002, when the newly formed high school was just starting its football program. Hopkins had already built a strong football track record when he started at Holy Family. Hopkins was an all-conference player at New Richmond High School, graduating in 1985. He was then a starting safety for the UW-River Falls football team. Hopkins’ first coaching stop was at Prescott High School, where he coached the Cardinals for 12 years. He is now starting his 13th season with the Fire.

Hopkins got his football start in New Richmond, where his passion for the game became evident quite quickly. Hopkins’ high school head coach was Joe Jamieson. Jamieson said Hopkins was a quality running back, but his intensity showed when he was used as a monster back on defense.

“He was so aggressive. He loved to get in on the tackling,” Jamieson said.

Jamieson said Hopkins’ relentless style made him one of the best special teams players in his tenure as coach.

“He, probably more than any other player, blocked a punt or kick almost every game. Bar none, Dave was the best kick blocker I ever coached,” Jamieson said.

While Hopkins didn’t start showing an interest in coaching until he was in college, Jamieson said all the indicators were there that Hopkins would be a successful coach.

“Dave was a leader. I think that remained true in college and you’re still seeing that leadership now,” Jamieson said.

At River Falls, Hopkins ended up playing alongside two of his high school teammates. Hopkins played strong safety, Joe Moore was the outside linebacker and Arlin Frank played defensive end.

“We literally played shoulder-to-shoulder-to-shoulder,” Hopkins said. “We were one side of the defense.”

Hopkins went immediately from college to Prescott. He served as an assistant coach one year before becoming the Cardinals’ head coach. His Prescott teams had several big years. The biggest was in 2000 when the Cardinals reached the state championship game. Hopkins was named the state football Coach of the Year for that performance.

While at Prescott, Hopkins spent four years simultaneously serving as Prescott’s head coach and as an assistant coach at UW-River Falls.

“It was wall-to-wall football. It was a fast-paced world but I learned a lot,” Hopkins said of the experience.

Hopkins was able to juggle the two positions because high school games were played on Friday night and the college games were played Saturday. He only ran into one instance where his two teams played the same day. River Falls won its Homecoming game in the afternoon and Prescott won a playoff game against Westby that night.

After his success at Prescott, Hopkins got the rare experience of building a completely new program at Holy Family. Hopkins meticulously tried to plan for every detail, knowing that traditions, good or bad, are often based off the first things that are done by a team.

“It was interesting to make the first move on everything,” Hopkins said, saying that it ranged from deciding what chant to use while doing jumping jacks to praying before games.

The night before Holy Family’s first-ever football game, Hopkins found out that there wouldn’t be anyone available to perform the national anthem at the game.

“I taught it to my kids that night after practice and we stood on the 40-yard line across the field and faced the flag and sang it ourselves. I told them if they did a great job there would be less conditioning next week. They did such a good job and people liked it so much, we have not stopped doing it and that is now a tradition at Holy Family. Before every game our team sings the national anthem,” Hopkins said.

Hopkins has built Holy Family into a Minnesota powerhouse. In a stretch of five years, they reached the state finals four times. Hopkins has a career record as a football varsity head coach of 146 wins and 85 losses. The Fire started practice for its 2014 season this week.

Speaking of traditions, a passion for sports runs deeply through the Hopkins family. Hopkins’ son, Hank, is scheduled to be his starting quarterback for Holy Family this fall. Hank was the starter all last year at quarterback for the Fire. Hopkins said his son is also strong academically, getting a 32 on his ACT. If Hank doesn’t play football, his top choices for colleges are Northwestern, Notre Dame and UW-Madison. If he wants to continue in football, he’s considering St. Thomas and Carleton.

Hopkins didn’t just play football in high school. He played baseball and he wrestled until giving hockey a try in his senior year. While he was an all-conference football player, he said he wasn’t the best high school athlete in his family. He said that title belonged to his sister, Cindy (Dr. Cindy Blader), who went to state in track and gymnastics.

Hopkins has also found another sport to test his competitive limits. He took up distance running after a bet with his sister Teri.

“We bet each other we could run a marathon. We were both too stubborn to back out,” he said.

It led to them running the next nine Grandma’s Marathons. Their dad, John, then also got the running bug, joining them in competing in marathons. John and Teri did so well, they both qualified for and ran in the Boston Marathon.

Hopkins was the only boy in his family, the third of five children.

Dave Newman
Dave Newman has been the sports editor at the New Richmond News since 1988. He has covered the action in the Middle Border Conference, Dunn-St. Croix Conference and Big Rivers Conference for nearly 30 years.
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