Kevin Kopps wins Dick Howser Trophy as national player of the year

By: Matt Jones Matt Jones's Twitter account
Published: Friday, June 18, 2021
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.
( Charlie Kaijo)
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.

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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