For some high school seniors, who to ask to the senior prom is their toughest decision of the year. For Bernard Hopkins, life should be so simple.
He's like the guy who finds himself with two dates at the prom and doesn't know who to dance with. You're supposed to "dance with the one that brung you," but the Overlea senior can't decide which one that is. Hopkins is a 6-foot-6, 215-pound All-Metro tight end in football and a likely candidate for similar honors in basketball, currently averaging 28 points and 15.2 rebounds for the 5-0 Falcons.
He's being recruited by Division I college programs in both sports and soon must choose one and, then, a school to play it at. That's not an easy thing to do for a youngster who has always perceived sports as a game, not as a business as the big-time athletic programs do.
But it won't be the first important decision of the year for Hopkins. Widely regarded as the top suburban basketball player in the area this season, far-ranging rumors this past summer had him transferring to Baltimore City power Southern.
"I was at one of my 8-year-old son's baseball games and I heard someone saying Bernard was going to transfer to Southern," said his mother, Marsha White.
Hopkins had played in the Cromwell League with Southern last summer and attended Metro Index basketball camp the same week Southern's players were there. Southern coaches Meredith Smith and Mike Wise were working at the camp that week, too.
"I liked playing with them," Hopkins said. "I wanted to transfer there because of the type of competition they play . . . My mother didn't like the idea. My father said it was OK, it was up to me."
"I told him he couldn't go back to a city school," said Mrs. White. "He thinks things out pretty well. He thought about it and decided to stay at Overlea."
"I just like the atmosphere here," Hopkins said. "The school did a lot for me. I like playing football. If it was just basketball, I think I'd have went [to Southern]."
=1 "He'd expressed an interest in transferring,"
said Southern coach Smith. "He was supposed to be moving to the Southern zone, but it never materialized . . . I told him simply that I thought he could help the program and the program could help him with competition."
In fact, Hopkins had attended Lake Clifton as a freshman, living with his grandmother on Oliver Street in East Baltimore. "He's really close to my mother, and she was alone," said Mrs. White.
But his grades weren't good, so he moved out to Overlea with his family. "Once he came to Overlea, there was a big change all over," she said.
That change included blossoming athletically. "He was good when he was a sophomore, better last year, and even better this year," said Overlea basketball coach Doug Eisenhauer. "Parts of his game he didn't have before. He handles the ball now and has an outside shot. College coaches are saying he's a diamond in the rough. He can get even better."
And he's trying to make up for lost time academically to qualify for college. This semester he's taking Algebra II, Geometry, English, French II and an Economics class taught by Eisenhauer.
"He's a worker in the classroom as well as on the court," said Eisenhauer.
But decision time is drawing near for Hopkins. No matter how many sports he's being recruited for, he's limited to five expense-paid visits to schools. And the colleges are judicious in offering one of their allotted recruiting visits to an athlete who hasn't picked his sport yet.
Overlea football coach Terry Ward, who is working with the football recruiters, said a successful major football program wanted to offer Hopkins a visit but, because he's still considering basketball, declined to make the offer. Eisenhauer, who's helping with the basketball recruiting, said, "A couple coaches have called and asked me which way he's leaning."
Still others are waiting for Hopkins' SAT results from December.
Meanwhile, he's made a football visit to Boston College, and has one set up for Rutgers. Ward says Louisville is actively interested, too. In basketball, varying levels of interest have been shown by Northeastern, Central Michigan, Duquesne, Eastern Kentucky, Towson State, St. Joseph's, Richmond, and Loyola-Marymount.
"He gets a lot of phone calls, and just about all the mail is for him," his mother said. "He gets about eight to 10 letters a day."
"I feel a little bit of pressure," Hopkins said. "If it's football, I've got to decide by early February."
So, which way is he leaning? Ward and Eisenhauer say they don't know. But 6-6 tight ends with soft hands who can run are a treasure in football. And, Hopkins said, "There are a lot of 6-6 basketball players around."