An injury in the defensive backfield in 1988 became a turning point for Johns Hopkins football.
A two-way prospect fresh out of Loyola High, Brian Hepting then was languishing on the bench midway through what would be an otherwise forgettable season. He had received All-Metro honorable mention as a wide receiver for the Dons, and that's where his Hopkins career began. Fortunately, he wasn't on offense for long.
A injury to the Blue Jays' free safety created an opening for Hepting, and he made the most of it in the season finale. His end zone interception secured Hopkins' only victory of the year, over longtime rival Western Maryland.
Hepting has been a defensive mainstay since, and the senior is one of the main reasons the Blue Jays are selected to finish second in the Centennial Football Conference. Hopkins begins its CFC schedule tonight (7:30) at Homewood Field against Swarthmore.
Hepting already has 17 career interceptions, a school record. He had five last year to go with nine other pass break-ups and 76 tackles. The numbers helped the Blue Jays to a 5-4-1 record, their best since 1985, and made him an obvious choice to the CFC all-star team.
The honors continued to pile up this summer, when Hepting was named to The Sporting News preseason Division III All-America team.
According to coach Jim Margraff, statistics tell only half the story.
"Brian completely runs the show on our defense," Margraff said. "He'll get signals from Bob Benson, our defensive coordinator, and it's up to him to make sure we adjust to the other team's front. He's controlling all 10 guys sometimes. Understanding the system and making the adjustments, it's like a four-credit course."
Hepting was given that responsibility in the spring of 1990, after another 1-9 season resulted in the hiring of Margraff. He was also charged with beefing up physically, one reason he has become as effective against the run as he always has been against the pass.
"That spring before my junior year, we had mandatory weight training three times a week," said Hepting, who's 6 feet 3 and 195 pounds, 20 more than he weighed as a freshman. "That was something I hadn't paid much attention to in high school, and being stronger made a difference in my game. Defending against the run is as much mental as it is physical, and the weight training added to my confidence."
Hepting probably enjoyed the extra hours in the weight room. Besides football, he also played varsity basketball and baseball at Loyola High, and last spring the civil engineering major from Ellicott City helped out Benson's rebuilding track and field team as a high-jumper.
Adding to Hepting's confidence this fall are the players around him. The Blue Jays graduated two CFC all-star linemen and the front five includes four rookies, but linebackers Stu Markley and Ed Lineen, and the rest of the defensive backfield are as important to the team's success as Hepting.
Seniors Mark Gorius (John Carroll High) and Eric Williams (Brunswick) shared a position as freshmen, and have ably manned the corners since. Tom Baugher, a junior from Feasterville, Pa., is a returning starter at strong safety.
"Because our defensive backs are so effective, we like to make the opposition throw the ball," Margraff said.