The Hopkins twins have been in lockstep forever.
Don and Steve were stellar three-year varsity players on both the gridiron and the baseball diamond at Waltham High. On the ice, they were terrific four-season performers for John Maguire’s Hawks, Steve an All-Scholastic goalie who attracted the interest of Division 1 recruiters and Don an all-league center with the versatility to step back and log quality minutes on the blue line. The pair were three-sport captains as seniors.
The twins made a rather seamless transition up the street to Bentley, as punishing safeties, Nos. 48 (Steve) and 49 (Don) on the Falcons roster.
Don stepped away as a sophomore, in 2009, to play junior hockey, but returned to the football field the following season to earn first-team Northeast-10 honors and was Bentley’s defensive MVP. Steve, though still hobbled after breaking his shin in the season finale the previous year against Stonehill, led the Falcons in unassisted tackles in 2010.
“They are bookends,” said Bentley coach Thom Boerman. “They share the same qualities: toughness, awareness, they’re smart, savvy, interchangeable.”
Last season, however, Don was mostly on his own.
Steve suffered a concussion in the opener against New York Maritime, returned in Week 3 against Stonehill, but absorbed another blow to the side of his head. His symptoms returned and he was lost for the season. The Falcons were never the same in a 6-4 campaign.
“He was obviously missed,” recalled Boerman. “Steve was depressed, his brother was playing, he wasn’t. They’re both so competitive.”
Steve, however, returned for spring ball, symptom-free, though just in shells, with no contact, and received a medical redshirt for another year of eligibility. “I always knew that I was going to give it another shot,” he said.
In spring ball, Boerman said Steve was “still a little bit unsure, but his legs were coming around, he was comfortable, and he was real honest with me.”
This season, with the twins together again (off the field too, living back at home), as senior captains and playmakers, delivering hard hits, and calling the defensive signals, the Falcons are in full flight, 5-0 entering Saturday’s NE-10 showdown against New Haven (5-0), which is ranked fifth in this week’s Division 2 American Football Coaches poll.
“Obviously, it is awesome to be 5-0, but this is where we planned on being, we’ve been trying to take it one game at a time,” said Steve, who at 6 feet 1 inch, 205 pounds, has racked up 29 tackles, second on the team behind junior linebacker Blaine Hopwood (50). Steve had three takeaways last week in a 38-28 win at Saint Anselm, including his first touchdown as a collegian, a 40-yard interception return. “We’ve been trying to take it one game at a time, but we’ve had this game marked on the schedule. It should be a fun game.”
Steve recalls watching last year’s matchup from the sideline in New Haven, where the host Chargers pulled out a 45-38 win.
“Got a lot of respect for that team, to build that program that fast is remarkable, credit their coaching staff,” he said of New Haven, which reinstituted football before the 2009 season. “We get one last crack at them.” There’s also the possibility of a rematch in the inaugural NE-10 championship game Nov. 10.
The Chargers (44.6 points per game) can score, whether reigning NE-10 Offensive Player of the Year Ryan Osiecki, a three-year starter who has been sidelined the last four weeks with a shoulder injury, or senior Ronnie Nelson (15 TDs, 1 interception) is at the trigger.
Coach Pete Rossomando said Friday that Nelson will start, but Osiecki will play. His squad, third in Division 2 in scoring defense at 11.2 points per game (Bentley is eighth at 13.0), can defend too.
No matter who is behind center for the Chargers, he will have to keep one eye on Nos. 48 and 49 in blue.
“The twins? As good a pair of safeties as I have seen in a while: disciplined, intelligent, good athletes, tough,” said Rossomando, acknowledging that he has trouble keeping his eyes off them on film.
“It will be quite a chore getting the ball behind those guys. They play with emotion. Love watching those guys play.”
Don Hopkins, who checked in on his brother’s status often during the preseason to make sure he was not dazed after absorbing contact, is glad to have him alongside for one final run.
“Definitely, it’s been an improvement, communication-wise, it makes it a lot easier, I play a lot better [with Steve back there],” said the 6-1, 210-pounder, who has 20 tackles and two picks in five games. “We knew that we would have a legitimate defense, because we had so many young guys last year. It’s a real close-knit unit. I have never got to play in a playoff game, in high school or here. Hopefully, we can make the most of it.”
Steve added, “This game has a lot of magnitude on the league, and nationally. We’re going to have to work hard for it.”
Craig Larson can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeLars.