Derrick Hopkins in pursuit.
He may not have the stats, the name recognition or play a premium position, but Virginia Tech defensive tackle Derrick Hopkins is the team's MVP for 2013.
The senior from Highland Springs, Va., entered this season with 27 career starts, many of them beside his older brother, Antoine. This season, Hopkins has started all 11 games, tallying 45 tackles, including 19 solo stops, seven tackles for loss and four sacks.
So yes, his numbers are actually very good for an interior defensive lineman.
Oftentimes the job of a defensive lineman is to occupy double-teams so the outside rushers or linebackers are free to make plays in the backfield. Hopkins has done that for his fellow defensive linemen.
However, Hopkins does more than just the dirty work for Bud Foster's defense. This play against Miami in Week 11 illustrates the impact Hopkins has in the run game for Tech.
Hopkins' presence in the middle is a big reason for the Hokies' defensive success. Through 12 weeks, Virginia Tech is No. 3 in total defense, No. 9 in run defense and No. 4 in team pass efficiency defense.
The Hokies are tied for third in the country with 34 sacks on the season and are second in interceptions with 18.
Hopkins, unlike the Virginia Tech defensive ends, doesn't rotate regularly. The Hokies are extremely deep at defensive end but not so much at defensive tackle. It requires Hopkins to be on the field more than most starting defensive tackles, and he plays in both the regular and nickel defense.
One of the more impressive traits that Hopkins possesses is his ability to play at a high level on every snap. Many defensive linemen will only go hard on pass plays when there is an opportunity to sack the quarterback.
Not Hopkins. He sets the tone for Virginia Tech on defense. Look no further than Hopkins' performance in the Georgia Tech game. He led the Hokies in tackles with seven and physically dominated the interior of Georgia Tech's offensive line for the entire game. Hopkins' performance in that game was crucial in stopping the Yellow Jackets' vaunted option attack.
Hopkins has even moonlighted as a fullback for the Hokies. In the win over Miami, Hopkins was the lead blocker on two of Trey Edmunds' touchdown runs.
Hopkins should be an automatic first-team All-ACC selection. It wouldn't be a stretch if he made the All-America team. Unfortunately, due to no fault of his own, Virginia Tech's overall struggles will likely keep him from reaching that milestone.
Hopkins isn't necessarily the Hokies' best player on defense. Defensive end James Gayle or cornerbacks Kyle Fuller and Antone Exum come to mind first when we think of the VT's top defensive players. He is, though, Virginia Tech's most indispensable player on defense.
The Hokies have survived without Fuller and Exum at times because of the emergence of Kendall Fuller and Brandon Facyson.
Where would Virginia Tech be if Hopkins went down for any period of time?
That's a question Foster and head coach Frank Beamer are glad they haven't had to answer in 2013. The run defense would not nearly be as good, and the Hokies' front four wouldn't collapse the pocket quite the way they do with Hopkins in the lineup.
MVP stands for most valuable player. No player on Virginia Tech's roster is more valuable to the team's success than Derrick Hopkins this season. And that's why he is the team's 2013 MVP.