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October 5, 2011
Phillip O. Berry Academy of Technology opened near uptown Charlotte in 2002 and, like most new schools with meager enrollment numbers, it struggled mightily in football. In 2008, Hopper and Dawson chose to attend the school and play for a new head coach, Andrew Howard. They promptly suffered through another winless season, going 0-11.
That's what made Wednesday's scene in the school's cafeteria all the more surreal for the trio, which helped turn around the program. Hopper and Dawson were being presented with their jerseys as U.S. Army All-Americans, and Howard could not stop grinning the entire time.
"It's huge, just huge," Howard said. "I never thought in a million years that I'd have even one (U.S. Army All-American), then to have two on one team. When they were freshmen, we knew they were going to be special players. But we didn't know how special. Man, it's just amazing. We're just going to enjoy it, the school will enjoy it."
Both players are four-stars - Dawson a 6-foot-3, 228-pound linebacker and Hopper a 6-foot, 165-pound wide receiver/athlete - and they've led Phillip O. Berry to a 6-1 record so far this season. The only loss came against North Carolina's top-ranked team, Charlotte's Mallard Creek, which plays in a larger division.
The progress the program made from their freshmen season is stunning.
"Since that year (2008), I made a promise to my teammates that we'd make a change and we have," Hopper said. "We've been dedicated. We've been grinding and grinding, and now we're one of the top teams in Charlotte."
On the major turnaround he helped orchestrate, Dawson added, "We work hard every day and keep our team intensity up. When we came in, it just (started) changing. It was God working his magic."
So now this perennial pinata of a program has one of the state's best teams and became just one of six high schools nationally that will send multiple players to the Army Bowl on Jan. 7 in San Antonio.
"I want to make a name for myself," said Hopper, a Clemson commit who is thrilled with the Tigers' fast start this fall. "I want to be remembered in this game. They selected me to play and I want to be remembered. This is not the end. ... And for us (to go together), it'll be great. It's not only my teammate, it's my best friend. We live 30 seconds from each other."
Dawson, who still is uncommitted with a long list of college contenders, and Hopper join an impressive list of Charlotte prospects. Wednesday's announcement came on the heels of the Army All-American jersey presentation for another Charlotte prospect, five-star offensive tackle D.J. Humphries of Mallard Creek. In all, the Charlotte metro landed six players in the game with a seventh hailing from not far outside the area.
"The Charlotte area is one of the best kept secrets," Howard said. "North Carolina is creeping up there as one of the premier states that produces a lot of good football. The state is doing a real good job of allowing us to play a lot of games and getting the kids prepared to play at the next level."