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SMITHFIELD - After a breakout senior season, Smithfield-Selma senior linebacker John Chopski was tabbed the inaugural Johnstonian News Defensive Player of the Year.
"Going into this season that was my goal to win it," Chopski said. "Coming in, being a senior, I felt like if I won that, I could get looked at by colleges and go to the next level."
The SSS standout put up 154 tackles, four sacks, three fumble recoveries, a forced fumble and a blocked punt a year after only having 18 tackles and a fumble recovery. Spartans head coach Mike Parrish said they needed Chopski to step up after last year's leading tackler, Yates Hamilton, graduated.
"He was extremely important," Parrish said. "He was the leader. He filled in for Yates Hamilton, who had been the starting middle 'backer for three years. Chopski kind of learned from him and kind of took over from there. He studied film, made sure he made the right calls, and made sure we lined up in the right places."
At 5-feet-8 and 177 pounds, Chopski on the field is described as the classic "not the fastest or the strongest guy on the field, but the smartest" stereotype.
"Chopski is just a great kid, he's got a nose for the football, he's not really big, not extremely fast, but he just listens very well," Parrish said. "Very coachable. He finds the football and makes tackles."
The SSS football team went 1-10 and 1-4 in the conference. The program has struggled for the better part of the last decade, but Chopski offers hope to a program that needs all the bright spots possible as Parrish in his second year tries to change the culture.
"I think he showed a lot these kids that are at SSS and the younger guys that what we're telling them is not impossible, and that if they set a goal, they have a purpose and they have a reason to do something then it makes things a lot more attainable," Parrish said. "He's the perfect picture of if you work hard, no matter your size, your situation-you can overcome that. If you have goals and you work to get those and leave the outside stuff alone- anything is possible."
Chopski set a goal of 150 tackles before the season and he credits his teammate, sophomore All-County second-team defensive lineman Julian Brockington, for helping him do it. Brockington was happy to help the senior leader.
"We was putting in work on the field, and it means a lot that I helped him get to that goal," Brockington said. "To see him doing good, it means a lot. He was a good leader."
Chopski believes that with sophomore like Brockington and other young players that his soon-to-be alma mater's football program will progress.
"I feel like with the freshman class they had come in this year, if they keep working and keep in the weight room, they'll be a pretty good team," Chopski said.
But teammates said that, as good as Chopski is on the field, he's an even better person and friend. Parrish said that he is very sociable, is probably known by every person in school and has a good reputation with his teachers.
"It's great having him on the field, but he's a great fiend," said senior All-County second-team athlete Deron George said. "Just having him around to be with is great."