Martin Hopkins didn’t expect a call from his former coach to bring him back home to the sport that he loves.
St. Rita coach Todd Kuska had always joked with Hopkins that he should come back and coach at his alma mater, but when Kuska called Hopkins in August to tell him that he was retiring, Kuska wasn’t kidding around.
He asked Hopkins if he wanted to take over as head coach.
“Everything was pointing that this was the right thing to do,” Hopkins said. “It’s a job that doesn’t come around often. It’s an opportunity to represent a strong program and be back with my family.”
Hopkins wrestled with it for a couple days but knew he needed to leave Boston and come back home. He told Kuska he was interested and interviewed for the job. St. Rita announced his hiring on Thursday.
“To be able to lead this program and kind of represent the St. Rita alumni and St. Rita itself is truly remarkable,” Hopkins said. “I didn’t think it would be happening and I’m at a loss of words about it. I’m excited about it.”
Hopkins graduated from St. Rita in 2009 after helping lead the Mustangs to a Class 7A state title in 2006. The defensive linemen earned first team all-state honors from numerous publications and the Illinois High School Football Coaches Association his senior year and was also named the Chicago Catholic League’s defensive most valuable player.
He went on to play college football at Iowa but transitioned into coaching in 2010 after injuries forced him to end his playing career. Hopkins stayed at Iowa until 2020, serving as a coach with different roles on the offense, defense and special teams during his time there. He and his wife moved to Boston for a sales job after Iowa eliminated his position because of the financial strains caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Once Hopkins informed Kuska and the St. Rita staff he was interested in the position, the school administration went through the interview process and was impressed with Hopkins’ passion. Athletic director Curtis Price, also an alumnus who is in his first year as St. Rita’s AD, thought Hopkins’ college coaching experience would help him lead a large program like St. Rita’s.
Price also thought it was important that Hopkins was passionate about St. Rita and wanted to be a part of the community that developed him into the man he is today.
“You can see that St. Rita did a lot for him and he wants to make sure he can give the same things that St. Rita gave him back to future St. Rita students,” Price said.
Hopkins said he’s excited to get back into coaching football but he’s more excited to help develop students during an important time of their lives. He wants to teach them what it’s like to be a part of a team and how to work as a team, not only in football, but life.
“Realizing how big of an impact you can make on these kids at such a young and important part of their lives is what I love about coaching, especially high school coaching where you’re working with these young boys who are turning into men, some of the most important times of their lives,” Hopkins said. “So to be a leader for them, someone they can lean on and count on like coach Kuska did for me, I want to be able to do that for the next generation of St. Rita.”
Hopkins will take over the program at the end of this season and said he doesn’t want to interfere with Kuska’s last season. He’ll start talking to grammar school students about coming to St. Rita once he returns to Chicago later in the fall and is excited to come back home as he answers the call as the new Mustangs leader.
“It’ll be cool to work with those guys, get back around football on the Southside in Chicago,” Hopkins said, “doing what I love at St. Rita.”