New Castle’s Malik Hooker eyes NFL dream

Malik Hooker is projected to be a top-10 pick in the 2017 NFL Draft

Malik Hooker, Fiesta Bowl
Ohio State safety Malik Hooker (24) celebrates his interception against Clemson with teammate Ohio State cornerback Gareon Conley during the first half of the Fiesta Bowl NCAA college football game, Saturday, Dec. 31, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

NEW CASTLE, Pennsylvania (WKBN) – It’s been 37 years since New Castle High School has had a player selected in the first round of the NFL Draft but on Thursday night, Malik Hooker will most likely be the next.

That’s not bad for a kid whose first love wasn’t football.

For the first two years of his high school career, Hooker was a basketball player — and a really good one. He was a 4-year starter and helped lead the ‘Canes to three straight WPIAL titles and the Quad-A State Championship his senior year. He finished with over 1,600 — the second most in school history.

But his future was football. During his junior year, then newly-hired Head Coach Joe Cowart convinced him to join the team.

“I always told Malik, 6’2″, 200 pounds, that’s minus minus in the NBA. I said as a defensive back in Division I football or the NFL, that’s plus plus because of how long he was and how athletic he was,” Cowart said.

Convincing Hooker to play was part of the plan. Convincing college scouts that he could play was the other.

“I have this young man who is an all-state basketball player as a sophomore. He’s going to be 6’1″, 185 pounds, runs like a deer. I said, ‘He may stink at football, I don’t know, but like a roller coaster ride, he meets the height and weight requirement to go play big time football,'” Cowart said.

After just one season, the colleges came calling. Hooker had offers from some of the biggest football programs in the country and was committed to Ohio State before his senior year.

“The trajectory was meteoric, really, how fast all that happened and really, it’s a similar thing that’s going on now,” Cowart said with a laugh.

Hooker spent the last three years in Columbus. He’s gone from a first year starter, to first team All-American, to potential first-round draft pick. He finished this season with seven interceptions — three of which he returned for touchdowns. Along the way, he won 37 games and a National Championship with the Buckeyes.

“Coach Blundo, our basketball coach, and I talk often about how much winning he did throughout the course of his career. Whether that was playing AAU basketball, Pop Warner football, all these things, he has about a handful of losses throughout growing up in the city of New Castle, so he was accustomed to winning,” Cowart said. “It all came from blood and sweat and tears and hard word, and that’s all his own doing. But for us, selfishly, as a New Castle football program, there’s nothing like it. We hope that our thumbprint is somewhere on him that says, ‘We had a little bit of a part of what he’s doing right now.'”

Coach Cowart has received calls from a few NFL teams about Hooker. The San Diego Chargers seem to be the most interested. They have the seventh overall pick in Thursday’s draft.

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