Josh Hopper enters his seventh season with the Blazers in 2016. He joined the UAB baseball staff as pitching coach in July 2009 after spending the previous five seasons as an assistant coach at his alma mater, Berry College in Rome, Ga.
Hopper has proven himself as one of the most successful pitching coaches not only in Conference USA, but in the nation.
In 2015, Hopper guided a pitching staff that carried the Blazers into the 2015 C-USA Championship. His pitching unit totaled 22 quality starts, allowed three runs or less in half of the team’s 58 games, gave up two runs or less on 22 occasions, surrendered just one run in 12 games and posted five shutouts.
The Blazers also set a new program record for the lowest single-season opposing batting average, holding opponents to a .237 clip in 2015. The staff also tallied the fourth-most strikeouts ever in a single season with 403, and posted a team ERA of 3.60 that ranked No. 4 in UAB single-season history.
Three of of UAB’s four all-conference selections in 2015 were pitchers under Hopper’s guidance, as James Naile was a All-C-USA First Team selection. Adam Lau landed a spot on the second team, while freshman southpaw Ryan Ruggles earned a place on the C-USA All-Freshman squad.
The Green and Gold also tied for the most draft picks ever in UAB history, as three players were taken, all previously undrafted, in the 2015 MLB Draft. Alex Luna became the highest pick ever for UAB in the June draft, a 10th round selection to the Kansas City Royals, while James Naile, a 2015 Rawlings/ABCA All-South Region Second Team honoree, was selected by the Oakland A’s in the 20th round, and reliever Adam Lau in the 37th round by the Boston Red Sox.
The development within the UAB program, especially under the direction of Hopper as pitching coach, has shown as of late, as the Blazers’ four highest draft picks in program history have all come within the last five years. In fact, in the first 32 years as a program, no UAB player was drafted higher than the 16th round, but four have been taken in the 14th round or higher dating back to 2011.
In 2014, Hopper was recognized as the inaugural Conference USA Assistant Coach of the Year. Hopper mentored one of the best pitching staffs in the conference and country. UAB's pitching staff owned a 2.87 ERA, which ranked fourth in C-USA and 24th in the nation. The Blazers made a 2.42 improvement in earned run average from 2013. In addition, its team ERA and opposing batting average (.240) both ranked first in program history for a single season. The squad struck 409 batters on the year, which ranks third in school history, as well.
The squad won 35 games in 2014, its most since 1993 and third-most in program history. In addition, UAB recorded nine shutouts on the year, a program record. Right-handed pitcher Chase Mallard became the first Second Team All-American in school history. Mallard held a 9-3 record, 1.55 ERA, and struck out 94. He was the only pitcher in the nation to record a quality start in each of his 14 starts during the regular season.
In 2012, Hopper guided the UAB pitching staff in capturing its first-ever Conference USA Tournament Championship and advancing to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1991. En route to the NCAA Regionals, Hopper saw three pitchers off the 2012 staff earn All-Tournament honors in Michael Busby (MVP), Ryan Nance and Chase Mallard. In the three Conference USA Tournament victories, the Blazer staff registered a miniscule 1.08 ERA and held opponents to a .189 batting average in 25 total innings, including a 5-0 shutout of Memphis in the league's title game.
In addition to the successful postseason run for UAB, Hoppers' staff pitched the most innings in program history (554.1) and recorded the most victories (32) since the 1996 campaign. The Blazers recorded four shutouts, the most since 1993, and issued the fewest walks (207) since 2003 under Hopper.
The 2011 staff featured two right-handed pitchers that were recognized by the league in Ryan Woolley and Dillon Napoleon. Both earned second-team All-Conference honors, while Napoleon became the first UAB player to earn the league's Newcomer of the Year award. Following the season, Woolley was drafted in the 13th round by the Detroit Tigers, becoming the 15th pupil under Hopper's guidance to play professionally.
"Josh has a great command of pitching mechanics and a toughness and energy that are contagious as he leads our pitching staff," head coach Brian Shoop said. "We truly believe he is one of the bright young stars in our profession. We as coaches, along with our players, are blessed to have Josh Hopper leading our pitching staff."
In 2009, his final season at Berry, Hopper helped the Vikings to the program's first NAIA World Series appearance and a ranking of No. 4 in the final NAIA Baseball Coaches Poll. Berry finished the year 46-16 and Hopper's pitching staff ranked in the top 25 nationally in ERA (4.22) and opponent batting average (.263).
The 2009 Berry staff featured NAIA All-American Matt McCalley, who finished the season with a 10-1 record and a 1.26 ERA. Also the program's career saves leader, McCalley is the second All-American coached by Hopper, joining Tim Borders (2001). In 2008, Hopper coached Collin McHugh, who was selected by the New York Mets in the 18th round of the 2008 Major League Baseball Draft.
Hopper's pitchers are known for their command of the strike zone, with his 2006 Berry staff leading the nation in fewest walks per game and the 2008 version ranking 13th in the country in that category. In his five-year stint with the Vikings, Hopper's pitching staffs averaged 290 strikeouts a year to just 141 walks.
Hopper's most recent stop at Berry, located in northwest Georgia, was his second stint as an assistant with his alma mater. He started his coaching career at Berry in 2001 before moving on to Georgia State for the 2003 and 2004 seasons. Hopper then returned to Berry before the 2005 campaign. In addition to his experience at the college level, Hopper also previously served as the head coach of the 18-year-old East Cobb Tigers out of the highly successful East Cobb Baseball youth program in Marietta, Ga.
As a player at Berry in the late 1990s, Hopper pitched his way to All-Conference honors three times and finished his career ranked in the top five on the school's all-time wins and strikeouts lists. He helped the Vikings to three NAIA regional tournament appearances.
Following his collegiate career, Hopper spent two years in the New York Mets' minor league system. He was a member of a championship team in 1999 with the Mets' Gulf Coast League squad, then split the 2000 season between the Capital City Bombers of the South Atlantic League and the Pittsfield Mets of the New York-Penn League.
Hopper graduated from Berry in 1999 with a bachelor's degree in health and physical education. He earned a master's degree in exercise science from Georgia State in 2004. Hopper was married in July 2006 to the former Kylie Bivens, and the couple has a son, Kase, and two daughters, Kameron and Baylor.