Hopkins senior captain R.J. Chakolis will have earned his fifth varsity letter at the start of the 2020 season.
It is unusual to find an athlete who can play varsity football as an eighth grader, but Chakolis didn’t just play, he started.
At 5-foot-10 and 203 pounds, the veteran linebacker made the All-District team last fall in leading the Royals to a 6-3 overall record. But his greatest athletic success came in winning the State Class AAA Wrestling Tournament title at 195 pounds in March of 2020.
Football and wrestling are sports that just seem to mesh for Chakolis. He works hard at both and takes pride in his ability to shine in two sports. It would be an understatement to say that he comes from a great athletic lineage. His grandfather, Richard Chakolis, was among the coaching legends in the Minneapolis City Conference. And his father, Happy, was once called “the best athlete in the history of the City Conference” by Golden Gloves boxing director Harry Davis.
Like his son, Happy didn’t just play one sport. In fact, he lettered in five sports during his years at Minneapolis North High. Those sports were football, wrestling, basketball, track and baseball.
R.J. has done some track, but the closest he has come to playing varsity basketball is attending all of the games and cheering for famous Royal players such as Zeke Nnaji, Kerwin Walton, Paige Buckers and his older sister, Dlayla Chakolis.
Football – especially the hitting part of the game – is in Chakolis’ DNA. And so is leadership.
Entering his second year as team captain, he is noticing how his leadership role has changed.
“As a guy that the other players look up to, I have to be way more vocal as a senior,” he said last week. “We are going to be young this year, but we have a lot of guys who have really stepped up. Our corner backs are showing out and we have J.T. Zell at quarterback. Ricky Dixon is our returning running back, and I know he’ll have a good year.”
Hopkins surprised the competition last season by going 6-2 during the regular season while playing against Class 5A opponents. Then the Royals lost a playoff game to Lakeville North, the first Class 6A team they played last fall.
“My No. 1 goal for this year is 6-0,” Chakolis said. “We had a great team last year, and I thought we deserved a better seed in the playoffs.”
Chakolis likes the Hopkins coaching staff and has a solid relationship with head coach John DenHartog.
As the captain on defense, Chakolis not only calls the signals, but serves as a “Coach on the Field” type of player.
Chakolis wants to keep everyone in the program upbeat and positive - from the freshmen through the seniors. He goes the extra mile in getting to know his teammates and is good at figuring out how each of them can contribute to the Royals’ success.
“We lost some really good players from last year,” Chakolis said. The main running back, B.J. Murff, graduated along with 6-6 linebacker Deonte Bryant, a defender who gave opposing quarterbacks the blues.
At the same time, Hopkins has key players returning – Dixon and Zell in the backfield, center Ryan Papacek, offensive lineman A.J. Torfin and Chakolis and Aaron Aune at linebacker.
The season begins with a road game at Apple Valley. Kickoff time is 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 9, at Apple Valley High. Another road test follows in Week 2, with the Royals traveling to Armstrong for a 7 p.m. game Oct. 14.
The next three games will be home dates at Hopkins High Stadium – Oct. 23 against Forest Lake, Oct. 30 against Chanhassen and Nov. 6 against Spring Lake Park. On Nov. 13, the Royals will play Park Center in the regular season finale at Park Center.
The schedule includes teams that are traditionally good in football, but that’s the kind of challenge Chakolis wants. Whether it’s on the football field or the wrestling mat, he comes to play – and comes to win.