Hopper’s role expanding

From the moment he first stepped foot on campus, fans have been practically begging to see linebacker Ty’Ron Hopper get more playing time.

They have a strong argument. Hopper was one of the gems of the Gators’ 2019 class, and he’s a unique talent. He started his high school career playing cornerback and safety but moved to linebacker once he started getting bigger after his sophomore year.

So, once he bulks up, he’ll have the coverage skills of a defensive back and the physicality and strength of a linebacker. That type of player will give offenses fits, and the Gators don’t quite have anyone else like him on the roster.

Hopper said that he’s seen some of the pleas from fans, but he tries not to think about them too much. There’s only one surefire way to earn more snaps.

“That’s always cool, to have somebody wanting you out there,” Hopper said. “At the end of the day, I’ve got to focus on [me] and improve and execute. That’s really cool, though.”

It hasn’t been as smooth or as fast of a transition as many in Gator Nation had hoped. After playing in four games and redshirting in 2019, he played in 11 games last year but primarily on special teams. His rush defense still needs major improvement, and he’s listed as a third-stringer on the unofficial depth chart, for what that’s worth.

However, his role might be starting to change. Hopper tied for second on the team with six tackles against South Florida last week. With Ventrell Miller expected to miss some time with an injury, Hopper should see more snaps in the coming weeks.

“My role’s going to get a little bigger, but I’m here for the challenge for sure,” he said. “Like I said, I’m focusing on getting better every week.”

During the early stages of fall camp, fellow linebacker Mohamoud Diabate had some high praise for Hopper, and he expects him to accomplish big things in the future.

“It’s that time,” Diabate said. “That’s my brother. It’s [No. 11 and No. 28]. Knowing Hopper, he’s ready, he’s matured, he has the physical tools and the mental tools. So, now, it’s about coming through camp every day and getting better to really show the world what he’s about. And Hopper is really like that. You can quote me on that.”

Though he’s yet to start a game in college and likely won’t for the foreseeable future, Hopper’s happy with the time he’s spent at UF so far. He’s tacked on close to 20 pounds since he enrolled, become more comfortable playing a position that’s still relatively new to him and learned how to better play the position from coach Christian Robinson and his more experienced teammates.

“My time here has been great, just being able to absorb and really learn more about the position and understand the game better,” he said. “I feel like I did that now, so I understand it better.

“It feels really good. I’m just focused on, honestly, improving every week, trying to get better, just that 1 percent every week.”

If he keeps doing that, fans won’t have to wonder why Hopper’s not out there for much longer.

Ethan was born in Gainesville and has lived in the Starke, Florida, area his entire life. He played basketball for five years and knew he wanted to be a sportswriter when he was in middle school. He’s attended countless Gators athletic events since his early childhood, with baseball being his favorite sport to attend. He’s a proud 2019 graduate of the University of Florida and a 2017 graduate of Santa Fe College. He interned with the University Athletic Association’s communications department for 1 ½ years as a student and has spent the last two football seasons writing for InsideTheGators.com. He is a long-suffering fan of the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Tampa Bay Rays. You can follow him on Twitter @ehughes97.