To bump. To bump. To bump.
Jeff Hopkins and his wife, Laurie, recognized the early morning sound as soon as they heard it. Standing in their driveway, their youngest son, Jackson, kicked the football again against their Stafford County home.
Sometimes the ball strayed and hit house siding or cracked air vents. But usually, Hopkins aimed his shot in the right place, much to his father’s delight.
“Thank goodness it was part of the foundation against the brick,” Jeff Hopkins said.
No one complained about the inconvenience, not even the neighbors. Everyone understood. Whether it was honing his shooting location or improving his passing by doing drills with his dad on their street, Hopkins was working on his game.
“The most important thing is that football brings him a lot of joy,” Jeff said. “He loved it. And he always loved doing it. It was about wanting to improve.”
Hopkins’ commitment over the years led to a rapid rise through the professional ranks and put him in position to represent the United States at the upcoming U-20 World Cup and Summer Olympics.
Hopkins’ rise began on April 13 when DC United announced they had signed the 18-year-old midfielder as a local player.
Upon turning pro, Hopkins passed up the chance to play football at the University of Virginia. It was a tough decision to turn down one of the best college programs in the country. But Hopkins was ready to become a full-time football player.
“I always knew I wanted to be a pro,” Hopkins said. “It made things easier.”
Then, on June 24, Hopkins received more good news when US Soccer announced that it had added him as an injury substitute to its 20-man roster for the 2022 Concacaf Under-20 Championship. It was Hopkins’ first time with a national team.
Hopkins had left the initial training camp earlier in the year, knowing that coaches planned to bring him back if a spot became available. It was a short wait. US Soccer released its initial U-20 roster on June 10. Just under two weeks later, Hopkins saw a voicemail on his phone from a number he didn’t recognize.
But once he picked up the message from the national team, Hopkins got excited. The U-20s needed a new midfielder after Obed Vargas suffered a back injury.
So Hopkins left, joining the Honduras national team in preparation for their round of 16 match on June 25 against Nicaragua. The United States won that game en route to claiming the title for the third time in a row. The team also qualified for the 2023 U-20 World Cup in Indonesia and, for the first time since 2008, the 2024 Olympics in Paris.
Hopkins returned to compete with the U-20s as one of 20 players on the USA roster for the Revelations Cup in Mexico City September 18-28.
“I always wanted this,” Hopkins said. “And now that we’ve qualified for the World Cup and the Olympics, it’s even more awesome.”
Getting to this point required discipline as Hopkins balanced football with school.
Hopkins attended Stafford High School in person for his first two years before doing his job online his last two years so he could travel to Leesburg and attend Loudoun United FC morning practices. Loudoun United FC is the second division club of DC United.
The round trip took three hours and involved late nights to finish homework. But he remained diligent and completed all of his requirements to graduate in early December 2021.
He was unable to attend graduation ceremonies in May due to a DC United game on the same day. But Hopkins took the time to stop for a moment and say hello to his friends before leaving.
Hopkins’ parents were supportive of his decision to turn professional.
“It was his dream,” Jeff said. “We still want him to go to college and MLS will help him. But you can only do it once.
DC United’s interest in the 6ft2in Hopkins took off after he started playing with Loudoun United FC in July 2021.
Hopkins had been a member of the DC United Academy since 2018 when he was 14 years old. He left briefly in 2021 to play with the New York Red Bulls Academy due to Jeff’s job in New Jersey. But Hopkins returned to DC United’s academy soon after due to the pandemic.
Hopkins impressed once he joined Loudoun.
“We could tell from the start that Jackson has a unique skill set for someone at 17,” Loudoun United chief executive Stewart Mairs said in a statement when Hopkins signed with DC United. “He has a solid physique, but he also has intuition with the ball at his feet.”
DC United brought him into full-time first-team training once Loudoun’s season ended.
He remained with the Major League Soccer franchise through pre-season before DC United offered him a four-year deal until 2025 with options for the following two years.
“He has a unique set of skills on the pitch with height and physique combined with big feet and ball awareness,” former DC United chief executive Lucy Rushton said in a statement regarding Hopkins’ signing.
Hopkins’ first year with DC United had its ups and downs for a struggling team. DC United finished with the MLS record this season at 7-21-6.
He’s also adapted to the more physical side of the game. Plus, he’s learned first-hand how quickly things change at the top.
Hopkins has played for three head coaches this season. He started with Hernán Losada, who was dismissed after a 2-4 start. Assistant manager Chad Ashton was named caretaker coach before DC United appointed former England soccer star Wayne Rooney as head coach on July 12.
“It’s not what I expected when I signed,” said Hopkins, who has played 21 games with 11 starts. “I experienced something like that so early. Some did and some didn’t. It’s good for me.
Hopkins comes from a family of athletes. A high-scoring forward, Jeff helped lead Chancellor High School to the state football title in 1990, and his mother was a multi-sport star at Stafford before graduating in 1991.
His parents introduced him to soccer at the age of 3 when he competed in the Soccer Tots league at the Fredericksburg Field House before eventually moving on to higher levels of competition.
But as Hopkins moved on, he did so knowing his parents had their backs, no matter what he chose to do.
“They let me be normal,” Hopkins said.
He took advantage of all his free moments to develop his game, especially at home.
Sometimes Hopkins trained alone. Other times, he and his father would pass the ball between them on their street. And then there were times when the whole Hopkins family was playing together in the street.
Those matchups got a bit aggressive at times, especially between Hopkins and his younger sister Ally, now a 14-year-old Fredericksburg Christian rookie who plays for FC Virginia.
“Maybe I grabbed it too much sometimes,” Hopkins concedes.
Even today, Hopkins will hit the ball against the home side. Or go out in the street in front of the only house he knows (he will be 19 in July). The only time he stops is to move away from a passing car. Then he starts again.
On a recent day, one of the Hopkins’ neighbors drove by and asked Jeff how his son was doing. The neighbor and her husband had lived in the neighborhood for 13 years and smiled as they talked about how often they saw Hopkins practicing outside.
It was a common sight for sure.
Jeff laughs when he thinks of all those times working with his son. It was understood that even after returning from work, Jeff, upon request, would participate in an outside session.
“The running joke was that there is no seance,” Jeff said.
David Fawcett is sports editor for InsideNoVa and lives in Stafford. He can be contacted at [email protected]