Florida football: Ty’Ron Hopper attributes career-best performance to Robinson, teammates

Graham Hall
Special to The Sun

Coaching changes typically antecede the departure of a team’s players en masse – a statement that’s never been more relevant with the one-time transfer legislation and the NCAA’s transfer portal. 

Without its head coach and two coordinators, the Gators can do little but await the roster’s postseason decisions, which will determine who returns next season and who the program must replace. It wouldn’t be off-base to think there isn’t much left for Florida to salvage this season, but the 24-23 overtime loss at Missouri signified the Gators’ defense have players to build off of in 2022, namely underclassmen linebacker Ty’Ron Hopper. 

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The redshirt sophomore out of Alpharetta, Georgia, shattered his previous career-high of seven tackles in the loss to the Tigers by recording 12 tackles in the defeat, 11 of them solo tackles, while dragging down two Missouri ball-carriers in the backfield for a loss on the day. 

Florida linebacker Ty'Ron Hopper (28) tackles Vanderbilt Commodores wide receiver Devin Boddie Jr. in the Oct. 9 game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

It was undoubtedly the latest high point for a player who arrived at Florida amid much hype yet has waited in the wings behind players with a more proven track record. With Florida’s leading tackler from last season, linebacker Ventrell Miller, sidelined for the remainder of the regular season with a torn biceps injury, Hopper had appeared in each of Florida’s games in 2021 prior to making his first start of the season in the 18-point victory over Samford University. 

Saturday’s showing was a highlight for a team that has repeatedly failed to reach lofty expectations this season – and it showed that Hopper is a promising piece for the program’s next defensive coordinator to utilize in the middle. 

It’s validating the message that UF’s interim defensive coordinator and linebackers coach, Christian Robinson, has repeated to Hopper since he arrived in Gainesville in 2019. 

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“This is something that I tell him all the time: I knew that when he was in high school, I saw it in high school,” Robinson said. “When he first got here, I said one day you're going to see what you become in following the plan.” 

Hopper saw the field as a true freshman and played in four games while preserving his redshirt. The following season, Hopper played in 11 games during the COVID-shortened 2020 campaign and began to show flashes of promise; he recorded tackles against Alabama, Georgia and in the Cotton Bowl against Oklahoma, all while having just one normal year of development under his pads. 

It wouldn’t have been peculiar for Hopper to grow impatient with the process, especially with Miller returning in 2021 as Hopper eyed a larger role, but Robinson continued to provide him with the accurate perspective. 

“I think the thing I love most in getting to work with him is that you see- he’s grown so much and sometimes they don't see those things in themselves as it's happening. But we do,” Robinson said. “I've watched every rep he's taken here at Florida and (we) see him improve and to see him trust what we said.”

Though it’s safe to say Hopper arrived in Gainesville with the correct mindset. As many desire to see the field from the jump, he arrived not just fully aware of the sometimes-lengthy development process but with a yearning for learning. 

Hopper’s awareness on the field may pale in comparison to his insight off of it; success in-game rarely exists without countless hours of preparation away from the actual competition, and he knows it. 

“I honestly enjoy learning everything, from football to life,” Hopper said. “I have a really great linebacker coach with C-Rob, and I have a great strength staff with Coach Savage and his staff, so it’s been really good for me.”

Individual success at this level is an oxymoron of sorts – a top-tier Division I program requires hundreds of people working together to reach the pinnacle, hence why Hopper is crediting his teammates and coaches for his latest in-game apex. 

As the Gators approach an offseason sure to be filled with arrivals, departures and general uncertainty, Hopper’s career-best performance against the Tigers signified the program has much to build on as they look to wrap up a turbulent regular season against in-state rival Florida State – that is, if they remember the benefits of a collective. 

“I felt like we had a really good game plan. We just had a lot of fire on defense. Everybody was playing well and I just gravitated off that, just other guys playing well and that helped me,” Hopper said. “I just felt like as a defense we were just locked in all week, practicing hard, getting to the ball. And we’re doing that this week too. So I expect the same thing from the whole D.”

If he maintains that mindset as the Gators look to 2022, Hopper’s position coach turned defensive coordinator anticipates a lengthy career on the football field for the third-year playmaker. 

“To see him believe in himself and to see him go perform, I’d expect that from him for the rest of his career,” Robinson said, “and he's going to continue to do that.”