Ball boy is the grandson of the late Havelock coach Wilbur Sasser

Visit newbernsj.com to see more photos of C.J. Hopkins

HAVELOCK -- A glance at the Havelock sideline on a football Friday night and you'll likely spot the smallest person there - a young blonde-haired boy often holding two footballs, one under each arm.

That boy is 11-year-old C.J. Hopkins, the grandson of late Havelock coaching legend Wilbur Sasser, who passed away in July.

Hopkins was invited to be the Rams' ball boy this season by head coach Caleb King and he gladly accepted.

"I like it a lot and it's a lot of fun," Hopkins said.

Hopkins looks to have more fun Saturday when he's on the sidelines at Duke University for the Rams' NCHSAA 3A championship game against Charlotte Catholic.

Kickoff is 3 p.m.

Hopkins said he was "really close" with Sasser and that football was something the two talked about a lot. He said that his grandfather shared plenty of football stories.

And while Hopkins is a young boy of few words, he notices a lot.

"I see from the guys on the team that you have to have good character as well as being good at football," he said.

Hopkins' job on Friday nights is simple but important - keep the footballs flowing to the referees so the game doesn't bog down.

Hopkins' grandmother, Beverly Sasser, said it has meant a lot to C.J. to be around the football team this season.

"We didn't quite know how much the community and the high school loved him like we love him," she said of Hopkins. "He was so withdrawn and so sad after Wilbur died. To have coach King take C.J. under his wing and let him be involved with their team means a lot."

Sasser echoed that Hopkins and her late husband spent a lot of time talking football.

"He calls me now to talk about it," she said with a laugh. "I know nothing about it, I should, but he and Wilbur just loved talking football and he's really come out of his shell. I'm not sure he would have if not for Caleb having him be a part of their team."

Hopkins even comes with up a score prediction every week before the game. He is usually spot on.

Last week against Western Alamance, he predicted 28-14 and the final was 41-14, giving him half credit.

Hopkins said he is excited for Saturday's state championship game and to be working on the field at Duke University.

"Just being on the sidelines at a college field, it's going to be pretty cool," he said.

Jordan Honeycutt can be reached at 252-635-5670 or at jordan.honeycutt@newbernsj.com