Matt Jones is the online sports director for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A double graduate of the University of Arkansas, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, and voter for the Heisman Trophy.
Kevin Kopps wins Dick Howser Trophy as national player of the year
Arkansas pitcher Kevin Kopps (facing) is greeted by catcher Casey Opitz after the Razorbacks recorded the final out of an NCAA regional game against Nebraska on Monday, June 7, 2021, in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas pitcher Kevin Kopps took home his biggest award yet Friday.
The Razorbacks’ ace reliever was named the winner of the 34th Dick Howser Trophy as national player of the year. The award, which is voted on by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, went to a relief pitcher for the first time.
The NCBWA also presented Kopps with its 16th Stopper of the Year Award as college baseball’s best relief pitcher.
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Kopps carved through opposing lineups with a devastating cutter, but he credited his success as much to a more healthy lifestyle and improving his confidence in himself.
"I started working on that a lot this summer, just like starting to appreciate who I am versus looking at things I didn’t like about myself," Kopps said.
In 33 appearances, Kopps went 12-1 with 11 saves. His ERA (0.90) and WHIP (0.76) were the lowest in college baseball.
In 89 2/3 innings, Kopps struck out 131 and walked 18. Opponents hit .162 against him.
The Razorbacks were 28-5 in games during which Kopps pitched. Arkansas finished the season with a 50-13 record and won SEC regular-season and tournament championships.
"We just saw after a few outings that we could give Kevin the ball and this game might be over," Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. "I can’t really say which game that was, but we knew we had something special.
"It was just a different feeling with Kevin on the mound."
Van Horn said he could see something different in Kopps last fall. Kopps struggled with an 8.18 ERA during the shortened 2020 season, but was dominating hitters during intrasquad scrimmages.
"Standing near a dugout during scrimmages and hearing hitters come back kind of mumbling to themselves, saying things like, ‘Man, I can’t stand hitting off Kevin,'" Van Horn said. "We kind of knew we had something going there."
Kopps entered a game in relief 32 times. His only start lasted eight-plus innings in the Razorbacks’ season finale, a 3-2 loss to North Carolina State in the decisive game of the NCAA Fayetteville Super Regional.
Kopps allowed three runs in the start — the only runs he allowed in 23 1/3 innings of NCAA postseason play.
Kopps is the second Arkansas player to win the Howser Trophy and the first to win Stopper of the Year.
Former Razorbacks outfielder Andrew Benintendi swept national player of the year honors in 2015 when he won the Howser Trophy and the Golden Spikes Award. Kopps is a semifinalist for the Golden Spikes, which will be presented by USA Baseball in July.
"I feel like it’s just a testament to the player development and the program we have going," Kopps told MLB Network.
Kopps’ 2021 season is one of the most decorated for an Arkansas player. In addition to the awards won Friday, Kopps has been named national player of the year by Collegiate Baseball Newspaper, national pitcher of the year by the College Baseball Foundation and Perfect Game, and was voted SEC pitcher of the year by league coaches.
He has been voted first-team All-America by NCBWA, Baseball America and Collegiate Baseball Newspaper.
"What sticks out to me the most is before the season in one of my bullpens, (pitching coach Matt Hobbs) was showing me one of my overlays, and he told me that I was going to be an All-American," Kopps said. "His belief in me and the confidence I got from that really helped me throughout the season."
Other finalists for the Howser Trophy were Vanderbilt pitchers Kumar Rocker and Jack Leiter, Texas Tech second baseman Jace Jung and Florida State catcher Matheu Nelson.
Tennessee coach Tony Vitello won the NCBWA’s Mike Martin Award as national coach of the year after leading the Volunteers to their first College World Series appearance since 2005. Vitello was an assistant at Arkansas for four seasons from 2014-17 and helped recruit Kopps.
Dick Howser Trophy winners
1987: Mike Fiore, OF, Miami
1988: Robin Ventura, 3B, Oklahoma State
1989: Scott Bryant, OF, Texas
1990: Alex Fernandez, P, Miami-Dade Community College
1991: Frank Rodriguez, P, Howard College
1992: Brooks Kieschnick, UTL, Texas
1993: Brooks Kieschnick, UTL, Texas
1994: Jason Varitek, C, Georgia Tech
1995: Todd Helton, 1B, Tennessee
1996: Kris Benson, P, Clemson
1997: J.D. Drew, OF, Florida State
1998: Eddy Furniss, 1B, LSU
1999: Jason Jennings, P, Baylor
2000: Mark Teixeira, 3B, Georgia Tech
2001: Mark Prior, P, Southern Cal
2002: Khalil Greene, SS, Clemson
2003: Rickie Weeks, 2B, Southern
2004: Jared Weaver, P, Long Beach State
2005: Alex Gordon, 3B, Nebraska
2006: Brad Lincoln, P, Houston
2007: David Price, P, Vanderbilt
2008: Buster Posey, C, Florida State
2009: Stephen Strasburg, P, San Diego State
2010: Anthony Rendon, 3B, Rice
2011: Taylor Jungman, P, Texas
2012: Mike Zunino, C, Florida
2013: Kris Bryant, 3B, San Diego
2014: A.J. Reed, UTL, Kentucky
2015: Andrew Benintendi, OF, Arkansas
2016: Seth Beer, OF, Clemson
2017: Brendan McKay, UTL, Louisville
2018: Brady Singer, P, Florida
2019: Adley Rutschman, C, Oregon State
2021: Kevin Kopps, P, Arkansas
Stopper of the Year winners
2005: J. Brent Cox, Texas
2006: Don Czyz, Kansas
2007: Luke Prihoda, Sam Houston State
2008: Joshua Fields, Georgia
2009: Addison Reed, San Diego State
2010: Chance Ruffin, Texas
2011: Corey Knebel, Texas
2012: Stefan Lopez, Southeastern Louisiana
2013: David Berg, UCLA
2014: Nick Burdi, Louisville
2015: David Berg, UCLA
2016: Bryan Garcia, Miami
2017: Lincoln Henzman, Louisville
2018: Michael Byrne, Florida
2019: Holden Powell, UCLA
2021: Kevin Kopps, Arkansas
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