Colts 1st round draft pick Malik Hooker talks about getting call from Colts. (Matt Kryger/TheStar)
Malik Hooker was in the eighth grade when he decided he was never playing football again. He was a hooper, a do-it-all wing who could jump out of the gym, so explosive he’d land on “SportsCenter” for a dunk that got Kobe Bryant’s attention.
The dream? The dream was always the NBA.
Hooker had broken his collarbone playing football when he was 14, and he’d had enough, walking away, vowing to never return. Basketball was life. Football was over with.
Thing was: John Cox, Malik’s uncle, wasn’t buying. He’d coached Malik in Pop Warner, in AAU basketball, in youth baseball. He saw something his nephew never did, certainly not back then: Malik was playing the wrong sport. So he kept on him, year after year, begging him to give football another shot.
“Give me one year,” he asked Malik when he was a high school freshman.
Malik said no.
“Give me one year,” he asked Malik when he was a sophomore.
Malik said no.
Fine, Uncle John said. “Give me one year,” he told Malik when he was a junior, “and at the end of the season, if you don’t like it, I won’t bother you as a senior.”
Malik obliged. Everything changed.
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True to his word, Uncle John went up to his nephew at the end of that football season, after Hooker’s New Castle, Pa., team had fallen in the first game of the state tournament, and asked him if he was done with football once and for all.
“I’m not done,” Malik snapped back. “I’ve got unfinished business.”
From there, a blur: a breakout senior season, The Game That Changed Everything, interest from Pitt … interest from Penn State … interest from Ohio State?!? …. three years in Columbus, 13 starts, seven interceptions, All-American honors, the coaches darn near ordering him to go pro early, his phone buzzing Thursday night, the 317 area code popping up and shivers running down Malik Hooker’s back.
From basketball star to first-round NFL draft pick in 43 months.
“I was just in the clouds, honestly,” the former Buckeyes safety said of the call Thursday night that made him an Indianapolis Colt. “Next thing you know, I’m flying on the jet, meeting the coaching staff.”
It’s all happened so fast. The switch. The decision. The rise. The draft. The call.
“Unreal,” a proud Uncle John said from the back of the room Friday afternoon. The kid he’d begged to give football one last chance had just aced his first news…