Tim Hopkinson attributes his soccer success to good timing.
"I've had a habit my whole life of being in the right place at the right time," says Old Dominion's top goal scorer as the regular season winds down.
That may be obvious on the field, but it also relates to the journey that brought him here from England.
What makes Hopkinson a standout player, according to Monarchs coach Alan Dawson, is his knack for knowing where to be in clutch situations. "When the time comes," says Dawson, "he's on the end of the pass and scores the winning goal."
Two of Hopkinson's nine goals have given ODU sudden-death victories, helping lift the Monarchs to the top of the Conference USA standings in their first season in the league - and to 21st in the national RPI.
On Saturday night, ODU will play New Mexico in the last regular-season home game for Hopkinson, fellow co-captain Jason Gaylord and the other seniors. Though if the Monarchs continue to win, an NCAA tournament date at ODU is a possibility.
"I'm going to treat it as my final home game," Hopkinson said. "I'll have no regrets."
Four years after arriving from Nottingham, Hopkinson said his time at ODU opened his eyes to possibilities he never would have realized back home. A business management major, he wants to stay in the States, find a job and settle in.
Employment opportunities may be scarce for recent college grads in the U.S., but Hopkinson knows too well it can be even worse in England.
"It's a very dense country," he said. "You're fighting for jobs, for everything. There's a lot more freedom in America."
He hasn't lost much of his "bloody 'el" English accent, but Hopkinson's cultural conversion includes taking a fancy to the NFL. His first exposure to American football came a few years ago via a Super Bowl broadcast after midnight in England.
" 'What's going on?' I wondered. Why are there so many adverts and timeouts? Now that I understand the rules, I love the game. It's a game of tactics."
A finisher more than a creator - four of his goals have come on headers - Hopkinson's game is built on positioning and effort.
"He's a decent athlete," said Dawson. "He's not exceptionally fast, but he makes up for it with his work rate. His training habits are those of a professional. We have to shut him down, say that's enough."
If the Monarchs reach the NCAA tournament, it will be their 10th appearance in the past 12 years under Dawson. Leaving the CAA hasn't hurt ODU's soccer stature, and nobody's complained about games in Miami and Boca Raton.
"I much prefer that than going to Delaware and Drexel," Dawson said. "So that's been a breath of fresh air, and honestly, it's given me a new lease on life a little bit, a new challenge as a coach."
In his 17th season at ODU, the native of Belfast, Northern Ireland, runs a program that didn't skip a beat after losing five senior starters from the previous year.
"It's a winning culture you create," Dawson explained. "I think you need four-year kids who come in and learn what it is to be a Monarch. Watch the older players bleed for the shirt.
"This is old Irish tactics here. It's called passion. It's called courage. It's called play for the shirt. And we've created a winning culture and it's been passed on from class to class. And you don't want to be the class that breaks the cycle."
After two more games, ODU moves on to the conference tournament in Charlotte, which will go a long way toward determining if the Monarchs are rewarded with an NCAA home game or even a top-16 seed. At 9-3-1, the team is riding a five-game winning streak and remains undefeated on the road. Yet, Hopkinson doesn't think it's as individually talented as last season's edition.
"This year, we're more of a team," he said. "If you're pinpointing who's the best player, you wouldn't really say anyone. We complement each other."
ODU's leading scorer also has a knack for saying the right thing.
Bob Molinaro 757-446-2373, email@example.com