New Castle News

Sports

July 4, 2014

Male Athlete of the Year: New Castle's Malik Hooker

NEW CASTLE — Once in a while, an athlete comes along who redefines the very word.

Then, there’s Malik Hooker.

The New Castle High graduate took athleticism to a level rarely seen before in the area on the basketball court and on the football turf.

So, it’s only a slam dunk that Hooker is the Lawrence County Male Athlete of the Year, as selected by the New Castle News sports staff. The award in sponsored by Washington Centre Physical Therapy.

Hooker’s accolades go beyond the county, however. He was named to the Associated Press all-state first team in football and basketball his senior year. That’s a feat rarely accomplished at the big school level — the Red Hurricane was Class AAA in football and Class AAAA in basketball this year.

“He had an incredible high school career. He won three WPIAL basketball championships, a state championship, was section player of year and was first-team all-state for football and basketball. My guess is that’s never happened in the 104-year history of sports at our school,” New Castle basketball coach Ralph Blundo said. “He is a phenomenal athlete. He is the best athlete I have seen at New Castle. I can’t speak to the guys who were before my time. But, in my opinion, he’s the greatest I have seen.”

Without hearing Blundo’s comments, ’Canes football coach Joe Cowart declared the same thing about Hooker, “Arguably, it can be said he is the greatest athlete to come out of New Castle High School. That is really saying something. I think it could easily be argued he has stamped himself as the best athlete to come out of here.”

 

HOOP DREAMS

Hooker is attending Ohio State on a football scholarship. Even though he chose to pursue collegiate football, he wrapped up his basketball career in style.

A 6-foot-1 guard/forward, Hooker led the county in scoring at 21.9 points per game. He finished with 1,628 career points, which ranks 11th all-time among county players. Hooker did it all for New Castle. He averaged 9.1 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 3.9 steals and 1.6 blocks per game.

A standard DVD contains 120 minutes of footage. You’d need more than one to capture Hooker’s acrobatics from this season alone. It seemed every game had had one or two highlight-reel plays.

“He is a great competitor. He wants to be the best player on the floor and on the football field night in and night out,” Blundo said. “What is underestimated about Malik in basketball and football is his sports IQ. Most players don’t compete as hard as Malik or are as intelligent. He brings that and everything else to the table as well.”

However, his crowning accomplishment was helping the ’Canes wrap up an historic unbeaten run (31-0) to the PIAA Class AAAA state title.

“I have been dreaming of winning a state championship since I can remember. To finish my career doing what I wanted to do the most, there is no greater feeling,” he said. “I was one of the proudest leaders on the team and not just because of the accomplishments on the court, but what we did academically and in the community. We were being great men and that’s what I like most about my players. We’ve been all friends since we were young. Even though we’re going our separate ways, we have a bond that can never be broken.”

New Castle went 107-10 in Hooker’s four years on the basketball squad. The ’Canes won WPIAL titles the last three seasons and finished their impressive three-year run with wins in 87 of 89 games played.

“It was fun to watch Malik; he was just a baby when I got him in the spring of his eighth grade year,” Blundo said. “As he grew physically, everything else was growing and improving, too, like his approach, preparation and work ethic. It was all right for him. I think he saw the success that was coming with his work. He enjoyed being the best and didn’t want anyone to catch him.”

At 6-foot-1, it was common for Hooker to posterize his opponents with thunderous dunks. Then, he’d turn around and come up with a huge block or stop on the defensive end. It happened numerous times for New Castle, especially during its thrilling postseason run this spring.

“His athleticism means you can make mistakes and he can make up for your mistakes as a coach and as players. We made mistakes that he fixed with his athletic abilities. You don’t teach that; that’s just Malik,” Blundo said. “I think people are finally figuring it out. What it takes to be great is more than just ability. Malik had that. He is a great athlete with a great temperament and great approach to his craft. He was a great teammate. Add all that together and you have the greatest athlete ever to come out of here.”

Blundo was amazed at Hooker’s progress in just two years of playing high school football.

“He really grew in those two years. Football is a different animal. It’s so hard to get from point A to B in just two years,” he said. “I am sure Urban Meyer and those guys can’t wait to get their claws in him and just see how much upside is in there. I talked to (Ohio State assistant) Luke Fickell the other night and he said Malik ran a 4.56 40-yard dash without even really trying. Malik just has superior athletic ability when compared to other incoming freshmen.”

 

BUCKEYE BALLER

Landing a football scholarship to Ohio State isn’t an easy task.

Try getting an offer after playing just eight games. That’s what happened for Hooker, who came out for the ’Canes squad his junior year after sitting out since junior high.

“He was a remarkable football player. As many accolades and as much talent he displayed in four years of basketball, he did nearly as much and shined nearly as bright on the football field. He was a spectacular player for us for two years,” Cowart said. “It’s funny. At our school, and I imagine a lot of other schools, there are kids walking down the halls who aren’t playing that you think could be great. Malik was a good junior high player. He came from a family of strong athletes. We certainly thought he could be something special. He really exceeded our expectations on the football field.”

Like in basketball, Hooker was a standout on offense and defense on the gridiron. He was a Parkway Conference unanimous selection as a first-team wide receiver. He led Lawrence County with 31 receptions for 608 yards. He ran the ball 40 times for 414 yards as well and added 13 touchdowns. Teams rarely threw — or ran — the ball his way on defense.

“I thought he was the best athlete of in the state of Pennsylvania just from breaking down film and tape on other teams and getting to see him play basketball. Plus, I coached track and I saw some great athletes there,” Cowart said. “He has the size, ball skills, raw ability, leaping ability and speed. The good thing about him, Even though he has rare gifts, he is such a humble kid. His mom, Angela Dennis, has a son she can be proud of. He is the total package.”

Hooker remains humble about his accomplishments.

“I don’t like commenting on myself. I went out there and did what I was asked to do. It affected me in a good way. I was pretty excited to do what I was doing to get where I am at today,” he said. “Any chance I get to compete, it’s something I just love to do. It’s how I was raised and how I was brought up. That’s just my thing.”

 

HIGH CEILING

Since Hooker has only two years of high school football under his belt, Cowart knows the learning curve will be steep, especially at a powerhouse NCAA Division-I program.

“He is raw. There’s no doubt about that. He brings a lot to work with, though. So many prestigious universities saw that. They saw him as a piece of clay they can work with and help shape. He has work to do, but there was nothing we ever asked him to do that, after one or two reps of doing, he wasn’t really good at. We could ask him to do anything and give him one day and he’d be really good at it,” Cowart said. “Whatever they ask him to do, he will compete hard and make New Castle proud and his family proud. His athletic prowess is off the charts. God gave him a great gift. I really think his talents are rare.”

The Buckeyes project Hooker as a safety.

“Who knows? He is really fun with the ball in his hands, too,” Cowart said.

Hooker is focused on adjusting to life as a college student as well as an athlete. His summer classes began last month in Columbus.

“As of right now, college life is not easy to adjust to,” said Hooker, who is one of a handful of New Castle graduates playing college football as a freshman. “I just hope we all keep our focus and keep doing what we’re doing and maintain and have the same focus we had in high school to accomplish our goals.”

When Hooker got on campus, it was like a whirlwind.

“The first few days, it’s so hectic. I think after the first few days on campus, you get used to the tempo,” he said. “After all I have been through, it is unbelievable where I am at right now. I had like a week or so to look back at my accomplishments and achievements. After that week, it was a blink of an eye and I was in Columbus.”

Hooker is approaching college just like he did high school — attacking it with intensity and focus.

“I am still trying to adjust to the type of society I am in now. Not even the fact that I am switching back to football mode, but I am at one of the top D-I schools athletics-wise and academics-wise. I have a lot of confidence in my abilities and that’s why I think I can do this,” he said. “I don’t want to disappoint my mom. We have been through so much. I just did what she asked and tried to keep her proud.

“Still to this day, I am learning stuff as the days go on,” he continued. “Switching from high school to college, you just have to work things out and fight your way though it because everyone has struggles. I am so competitive; I just like earning my spot. That’s nothing new and I just go out and work as hard as I can, put faith in God and hope everything works out.”

It’s been a successful formula so far.

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