With the fall season beginning, stadiums all over the country will be packed on game days with dedicated fans.
The athlete feature this week takes a look underneath the helmet of starting senior wide receiver, James “J.J” Brania-Hopp.
Growing up in Montville, New Jersey, Brania-Hopp never expected to end up in Topeka, Kansas. After attending Bridgton Academy in Maine, he looked for a new opportunity that would let him continue following his football dreams.
Now 22 years old and beginning his fourth and final season as an Ichabod, Brania-Hopp has found success in his unexpected journey. He uses the possibility of constant improvement as an inspiration to be the best version of himself that he can be.
Playing high school football wasn’t as productive for his dreams as he hoped. Only winning about three games and getting little to no exposure, Brania-Hopp quit the team his senior year. After graduation, he found himself at a community college in New York where negative situations caused him to drop out a few weeks later. His next step led him to play at Bridgton Academy in Maine for a season where he hoped to get more exposure to college coaches. When most of his offers fell through at the last minute, hope was almost lost until he met Head Coach Craig Schurig.
“I thought I was going to end up back in New Jersey for school or California, but instead of there I ended up smack in the middle in Kansas. My coach at the time had called up Coach Schurig and I was blessed that he gave me an opportunity to come here to play ball,” Brania-Hopp said.
The collegiate football star admits that there was a time back in middle school where he actually found a love for basketball. After realizing he would never grow tall enough to be in the NBA, he decided that football was his true calling.
“Football started catching my eye and it looked awesome to be on that big stage in front of all these people. The energy on the field is like modern day gladiators. I loved it and decided I wanted to make a life of it,” Brania-Hopp said.
Although his plans after graduation are still up in the air, Brania-Hopp wants to advance his playing career as far as he can. In the meantime, he hopes to use his degree in communication to pursue his passion for social media marketing.
Brania-Hopp said the hardest part of playing college football is being far away from his family.
“I try to call as much as I can and I know they try their best to stay in touch but things get busy back home. You get used to the distance but hopefully they can still make it out to a few games this season,” Brania-Hopp said.
Although it’s not where he grew up, Brania-Hopp said he’s still able to find a home here at Washburn. Giving credit to the welcoming and understanding instructors, he said the past four years have been full of some of his best experiences. He believes that attending Washburn as a student athlete has helped him grow into the best version of himself, teaching him perseverance and patience.
When he’s not playing football, Brania-Hopp finds himself doing things to be a better football player. He spent this past summer traveling to Dallas, Texas, and back home to New Jersey to work with trainers for his senior season.
Looking back at his life, Brania-Hopp said the biggest advice he would give himself would be to take better care of his body, mind and spirit.
“If I could talk to my younger self, I would tell me to focus more on what’s important and less on what’s not. Spend more time with your family. Eat better. Work more towards following your dreams instead of worrying about other kids at school. Just focus,” Brania-Hopp said.