No position is more impacted by the rules changes utilized for the Empire Challenge than linebacker.
“There’s no blitzing. That’s definitely a bummer for me,” said Kings Park’s Mickey Hopkins, a 6-1, 230-pound Newsday All-Long Island second-team selection last fall who is one of those linebackers whose aggressive playing style might be somewhat restricted by rules that prohibit blitzing and limit defenses to a cover-3 alignment that essentially forces one of its outside backers into pass coverage.
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“We draft for a 4-3, but we really have to play more of a 4-4 and that means one of the linebackers gets stuck in coverage,” linebacker coach Jeff Cipp (Longwood) said. “Hopkins is the biggest one of the group, but he can run. We don’t know what offense they’ll use, but we’ve focused on the pass. Our linebackers have looked good against our spread offense.”
For Tuesday’s Long Island vs. New York City Empire Challenge all-star football game at 7 p.m. at Hofstra’s Shuart Stadium, Hopkins will be joined on the outside by first-team Newsday All-Long Island linebackers Liam Bailey (Sayville) and Bobby Bove (Lindenhurst) and second-teamer Antonio Scala (Longwood). The inside linebackers will be first-team All-Long Island selection Mike Rothberg (MacArthur) and second-team choice Gaetano Famiglietti (Glen Cove).
Long Island has won the last five games and holds a 12-6 edge in the series. “We all know the history and no one wants to be part of the team that ends the winning streak,” Hopkins said. “There’s a lot to learn. I’m playing outside linebacker and I usually played middle linebacker. I’ll be dropping in coverage more, but it’s good to learn something new.”
Hopkins considers the Empire Challenge experience of meeting new players, all with impressive resumes like his, good preparation for the next step in his football career. Hopkins will play at Division II Pace University in the fall. “With all the talent here, this is how it’s going to be at college when I first get there,” Hopkins said. “I’m looking forward to getting back to football. I haven’t done any hitting for a while, but when you’ve done it for so long, you know you can do it again.”
He said that while Kings Park has been a winning program, he knew other players on the Long Island squad had higher profiles because of their schools’ success. “I did feel I had to showcase myself a little more because some of the players here are from championship teams,” Hopkins said. “It’s a huge honor for me to be here and be one of the 50 best football players on Long Island. I guess I must be doing something right to get noticed by the coaches.”
Hopkins has had previous All-Star Game experience, being named MVP of the Suffolk County Police Athletic League senior All-Star Game last November. He returned a fumble 43 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter, the first scoop-and-score of his high school career.
There is no rule against him doing that again on Tuesday night.