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Hopkins brothers rise up together for Virginia Tech

Virginia Tech defensive tackle Antoine Hopkins appears almost comfortable answering questions about his brother's rapid ascent. Though Antoine is two years older and weighs almost 15 pounds more, his younger brother Derrick, a true freshman for the Hokies this year, has always been the player coaches would praise.

Derrick, a quick learner with a high motor, was the one first-year player that the Hokies' coaching staff decided could contribute right away this season. Antoine had to redshirt two years ago; he was a talent who showed NFL skills but one whose effort could waver at times.

That the two ended up back together, playing alongside each other on the defensive line in Blacksburg -- they were teammates at Highland Springs High in the Richmond area -- may have been the best thing that could have happened to the elder Hopkins.

As defensive coordinator Bud Foster put it before the season began, "The Hopkins kids have done a great job. Derrick's made Antoine better."

"Having my brother here, he sometimes pushes me," Antoine Hopkins said. "He sees the game as I do, very quickly, so if I mess up on a play he’s there to comment on me. I try to limit my mistakes, so he won’t make as many mistakes as I do."

Both will be counted on more than ever when Virginia Tech looks to rebound against East Carolina on Saturday after beginning the season with two straight losses. With junior defensive tackle Kwamaine Battle out for the season because of a torn ACL, Antoine Hopkins will make his first career start against the Pirates. Derrick Hopkins will be the primary back-up for a defensive line that is thin on depth.

Antoine Hopkins played much of last Saturday's game against James Madison once Battle limped off the field, and even got a sack. But the question has never been whether Hopkins could track down the quarterback, it was giving that same effort on every play.

Still, as he gets his moment in the spotlight, Hopkins admits the comparisons to his younger brother will probably be proven true. He seems comfortable with that.

"He will eventually be better than me, but he’s still got a lot to learn," Hopkins said. "Even before [he got here] I was starting to respond more. But now I’m starting, so I gotta take my game to another level."

*On another note, if you haven't done so, check out my notebook from Thursday's paper. In it, I discuss the Hokies' red zone woes, some future scheduling issues and the offensive line.

By Mark Giannotto  |  September 16, 2010; 9:00 AM ET
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