When it's all said and done, I think he's going to wind up being the best WR from this class.http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nf ... s/2086501/
NFL prospect DeAndre Hopkins steeled by tragedies
Robert Klemko, USA TODAY Sports11:19 p.m. EDT April 15, 2013
(Photo: Joshua S. Kelly for USA TODAY Sports)
Hopkins was 10 when mother was victim of vicious attack by cheating ex-boyfriend, making her blind
In addition, Hopkins' life a script of car crashes and failed suicide attempt by a cousin
Hopkins, a WR who shined at Clemson, is projected to be a first-round pick
CENTRAL, S.C. -- "Sabrina!"
The shout startled Sabrina Greenlee, who had just found her boyfriend at the home of another woman on a July day in 2002. Greenlee turned and ... whoosh! The boiling chemicals, a mixture of lye and bleach that had reached 400 degrees Fahrenheit, seared her body.
She fell to the ground, the skin rapidly peeling off her face, neck and back. The cheating boyfriend picked her up, put her in a car and dropped her off at a nearby gas station.
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"He left me there to die," Greenlee said. "All my skin came off of my body. I was laying out there, dying. There was blood all over this woman's store."
The station's attendant locked the doors and called an ambulance, which took Greenlee to the local hospital. From there, she was flown to a medical center in Augusta, Ga., where she spent three weeks in a medically induced coma while doctors patched her face with skin grafts.
Today, she is blind in her right eye, with 60% sight in her left eye. Savannah Carlita Grant, the woman who hurled the gruesome concoction, pleaded guilty to assault and battery with intent to kill and was sentenced to 20 years in a South Carolina penitentiary, where she has remained since 2003, according to court documents.
NFL draft prospect DeAndre Hopkins was 10 when it happened, and recently he pointed at a portrait of his mother that hangs above the mantle in the family home on Briar Lane. In the photo, she wears prosthetic corneas, the right side of her face covered by a wide-brimmed red hat, cocked to the side to hide the scars. She is seated and smiling for a photographer.
"If you think she looks pretty there," Hopkins said as he held a framed photo of his mother before the attack, "take a look at what she used to look like ..."
Hopkins, a 20-year-old wide receiver, is projected to be a first-round pick in the NFL draft on April 25, and he could sign a contract that will make him wealthy beyond his wildest dreams.
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Scouts describe him as an electric and dynamic talent with great hands, especially on passes thrown off target — a player who will make tacklers miss and can return punts, too.
But nowhere in the scouting reports is the incredible tale of his path to the brink of pro football, a soap opera script of car crashes — fatal and miraculous — the disfiguring acid attack, a failed suicide attempt by a cousin and Hopkins' two-decades-long struggle to overcome a tragic family history.
Even those who have lived it — those who have run their fingertips over the scars it has left behind — have a difficult time believing it.
"So much bad has happened around DeAndre," cousin Javis Austin said. "A lot of these things that have happened have helped keep him on track. He's been very fortunate. Right now, I think it's time for our family to have some joy."
Tragedy upon tragedy
DeAndre Hopkins doesn't remember anything about his father, but his mother tells him that Harris Steve Hopkins, known by his middle name, was a kind man and well-liked around town. He loved cars, gold jewelry and, apparently, high fashion.
"He always had the new Mustang before it came out," DeAndre said. "We still have one of his mink coats."
Steve Hopkins was generous, too. He treated Greenlee's two children from a previous relationship as if they were his own, she said.
"He was a great guy from what my mom tells me," DeAndre said. "Every Christmas, he would buy everyone presents."
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But Steve Hopkins also was a career drug dealer, who, police say, died in a car wreck on I-85 in Georgia in 1992, when DeAndre was 5 months old.
Greenlee recalled that she and Steve were driving home in the rain on a late-November afternoon after visiting family in Atlanta. As Steve approached a turn, his Mustang GTS hydroplaned, struck an obstacle and flipped three times before slamming into a guard rail on the driver's side. Greenlee escaped with a concussion. Steve died eight days later. He was 25. A police report confirms her recollection.
Steve Hopkins had been out on bail, facing federal charges related to an arrest for cocaine distribution. With his lengthy rap sheet, he was facing 100 years in prison, Greenlee said. Instead, he died in a Georgia hospital, leaving behind DeAndre and the two older half-siblings from Greenlee's previous relationship.
It was only the beginning of Greenlee's and DeAndre's nightmare.
On a mantle of trophies and framed photographs, where the family's triumphs and heartaches mingle, stands a picture of a young, grinning Terry Smith, Hopkins' uncle, who led Clemson's football team in receiving from 1990 to 1993. Terry was the family's hope to make it big.
After compiling 2,681 receiving yards in four seasons, then a school record, Smith went undrafted before signing with the Indianapolis Colts prior to the 1994 season. He played two seasons in the NFL before being released in 1996.
In July 1997, DeKalb County police in Georgia responded to a disturbance call at the home of Angela Smith, Terry's estranged wife. According to a police report, they found Smith attacking his wife with a kitchen knife while she was holding their 2-year-old daughter. Told to drop the knife, Smith responded, "Kill me! Kill me!" according to the report, and raised his arm to attack the woman.
Police opened fire, fatally shooting him and wounding Angela and the child. They would survive.
Greenlee never believed the police account, and her father hired an attorney to investigate that day in Lithonia, Ga. But eventually, the money dried up and the stress became too much.
"It got to the point that we couldn't afford it," Greenlee said. "We felt like there was a lot of cover-up, (but) it just became too emotional."
There was more pain on the horizon.
Clemson receiver Deandre Hopkins is hoping to make a big impact in the NFL.(Photo: Michael Conroy, AP)
Cousin is role model
Javis Austin had had enough. When he raised a loaded .380 caliber pistol to his right temple and pulled the trigger in 1999, DeAndre Hopkins' 21-year-old cousin wasn't thinking about the little boy who idolized him.
Austin wasn't thinking about his brother, Louis, who died five years earlier of a heart attack during a pickup basketball game at the age of 24.
The junior running back was despondent because he had slipped down Clemson's depth chart with the arrival of coach Tommy Bowden, and Austin was ready to end it all.
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"Me and Coach didn't see eye to eye," Austin said. "I got to the point that I was so angry, it had to be him or me ... and I chose me."
But he failed. The bullet destroyed his right eye and damaged his left, instantly changing his life and ending his football career with the latest in a string of family tragedies.
Today, Austin works as a special educator at an elementary school in Clemson. He has worked out with Hopkins a few times this offseason, and he's seeking certification as a physical trainer. He hasn't explained to Hopkins the reasons behind his suicide attempt, but Hopkins says that's not necessary. In his cousin, Hopkins sees a fighter who has reclaimed his life.
"He's my role model and he doesn't even know it," Hopkins said.
Surviving car accident
With tragedy all around him, maybe it was just a matter of time before it put a hand on DeAndre Hopkis' shoulder, too.
On the Tuesday morning before Clemson would play in the 2012 Discover Orange Bowl in Miami Gardens, Fla., Hopkins, driving on wet roads, was late to Clemson's Memorial Stadium, where a bus waited to bring the team to the airport. He lost control and wrapped his car around a tree. Clemson assistant coach Jeff Scott saw the accident from another road and recognized the car.
"I looked up in the tree and I could see the back of the car," Scott said. "Your stomach just drops. We turned around and got over there and one of the police chiefs from Clemson told me he was conscious. It was a situation where it was wet and he was running a bit late and his tires were so thin."
Hopkins walked away with a concussion, rejoining his team in Florida and playing in the bowl game. The episode rattled Greenlee, who said it "took me to a whole other place" — the crash in 1992. And it marked the beginning of a new kind of maturity in Hopkins, Scott said.
"He knew he definitely could have lost his life right there, and I think it had something to do with his progression over the next year," Scott said. "It showed him how easily his life can be taken away from him. I saw a lot of maturity from that point on to where it is now. That was a major turning point in his life."
Like those around him who had escaped death, Hopkins brushed himself off. The following season, he had one of the greatest individual seasons in Clemson history with 82catches for 1,405 yards and 18touchdowns as a junior.
As he passed his uncle Terry in the record books, Hopkins grew as a mentor, helping fellow Tigers wide receiver Sammy Watkins through his early season suspension after an arrest for marijuana possession.
"He was always in my ear, telling me to be positive," Watkins said. "I was on the negative side most of the time, but he lifted me up. He told me, 'Next year's going to be your year.'"
Where does the positive outlook come from? Mother and son credit their faith. She's writing a book, which she plans to title Living Proof. Remarkably, she calls her life a wonderful journey.
Still, one of the harshest realities is that she will never clearly see her son play football in the NFL. Neither will Javis. And Hopkins' father, had he lived, would have watched his son only on a prison TV.
But after living through all of the heartache, Hopkins says he's ready for the challenges of the NFL.
"It all makes me so much stronger," he said. "I feel like I've got so many angels around me, it's like I'm going to be protected no matter what. Little obstacles, if they don't go my way, I really don't even get down. I've been through so much."