Mom shares in Malik's magical day for Ohio State

Ohio State had a great season debut. Malik Hooker's starting debut was even better.

It landed the redshirt sophomore safety from New Castle, Pennsylvania, on Saturday's SportsCenter highlights. So what else is new?

Hooker already had gotten that same ESPN exposure — twice — as a high school basketball dunk meister.

Even his two interceptions in the 77-10 rout of Bowling Green were old hat. He achieved that same "double" the last time he played in Ohio Stadium, in the spring game.

So why were so many reporters crowded around him in the interview room? And why were there even more huddled around his mom?

To understand the mother-son dynamic at work here helps give context to his did-I-see-what-I-just-saw? performance against Bowling Green. It's a story coach Urban Meyer seemed anxious to share in the afterglow.

"His first year, he tried to quit about seven times," Meyer said of Hooker. "Typical freshman. You see yourself third, fourth, fifth on the depth chart; you don't like it and it's hard, and I'm going to quit. Thank God for moms like (his), because some moms say 'Come on home.' That doesn't work out usually very well. This mom said, 'You shut up and go back to work.' And it worked out for him. Thanks, mom."

Angela Dennis, wearing her son's No. 24 jersey, was invited into the interview room. It brought back memories of former defensive tackle Quinn Pitcock and his grandmother, Kitty Church, stealing the show at a press conference in Scottsdale, Arizona, before the Buckeyes played Florida for the 2006 national championship. She happened to live close to where the media session took place and saw that as a chance to spend time with her grandson.

A classic, feel-good moment.

But over the past 30 years, it's hard to recall any relative, other than the head coach's wife, showing up in the Ohio Stadium media room. It's a good thing Dennis did.

A perspective like hers helps humanize these players most fans see as little more than Saturday gladiators.

"With Malik, I wanted him to reach heights I didn't get a chance to," she said. "I knew he had a great opportunity, and that's why I was going to make sure he didn't ruin it."

Dennis raised five children on her own. She had a rough time growing up, the daughter of addicts, and like most parents she wanted her kids to have a better life than she did. That's why she didn't want to hear it when Malik thought about quitting.

His first two years on campus, when he was sitting behind safeties Vonn Bell and Tyvis Powell, he'd go home all the time and go on such long walks, clearing his mind and trying to regain his confidence, the family would need to send out a one-woman search party.

You can guess the woman.

Dennis ordered him into the car each time. And each time she booted his butt back to school.

"I would try to sneak out and my uncle would come find me; I'd try to go to my cousin's house and my aunt would end up calling my mom or my sister," Hooker said. "I tried so many things.

"I feel like it was part of God's plan. If you try so many things, and they don't work, it must be part of the plan. My mom's exact words were 'I don't know what you're going to do, but you're not coming back here.' My mom was pretty much all I had growing up, so whatever she says goes in my book."

Hooker admitted he was never serious about quitting.

"I'm not no quitter-type dude," he said. "For me to even think I was disappointed in myself. ... I never even had a thought like that in high school.

"It was just extremely difficult for me at the time, but I stuck to the plan, kept working hard, watching film to make myself better. You work so hard at your craft that you feel like your time is coming. I feel like that's what's happening right now."

Neither of Hooker's interceptions Saturday were of the garden variety, but the first was truly exceptional. He made a leaping Odell Beckham-ish one-handed stab after tipping the ball to himself, showing the vertical leap that led to his highlight-reel dunks.

As a basketball player, his mom said that on a scale of 1 to 10, "he was a 12." She didn't see anything Saturday she hadn't seen before.

"I've seen it a thousand times," she said. "He's always been a miraculous player, since he was little. That was definitely something I wanted him to keep pushing for."

Football fans of a certain vintage will remember Fair Hooker, a receiver for the Browns in the 1970s. It looks like his namesake has even better hands.

"Once the ball's in the air and I start tracking it, and I'm running, I get this (electrical shock) throughout my body like, 'Yeah, this is the play,'" Hooker said. "I knew it was my moment, and I stepped up and made the play."


According to Dennis, Hooker still considers himself a basketball player, but once he began playing football as a high school junior and shot up the recruiting rankings, his college choice was made for him.

Mom took it from there.


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