Big Ten DB of Year Hooker Making an Impact

December 27, 2018

By Joey Johnston

He was maybe a step slow. He wasn'tan overwhelming prospect and his big-time football scholarship offers werelimited to one.

Clearly, the Iowa Hawkeyes sawsomething special in Amani Hooker.

And their long-term vision has paidoff.

When the Hawkeyes (8-4) meet theMississippi State Bulldogs (8-4) in the Jan. 1 Outback Bowl at Raymond JamesStadium, Hooker will be one of the most notable and well-decorated players onthe field.

Hooker, a junior safety who alsoplayed half of Iowa's season at a linebacker position, was named theTatum-Woodson Big Ten Defensive Back of the Year.

The names are considered footballroyalty.

Jack Tatum.

Rod Woodson.

Two of the best ever to play theirposition, not only in the Big Ten, but in the NFL.

Now Hooker's name is in the samecompany.

Not only that, but Hooker is thefourth overall Iowa player to claim the award (and the third in the past fourseasons), joining Micah Hyde (2012), Desmond King (2015), Joshua Jackson(2017).

"It's interesting because Amani islike a lot of guys we've had that are probably under-recruited,'' Iowa coachKirk Ferentz said. "He's just a really good kid and a really good player.

"I keep thinking about Desmond(King) and the question was always, 'Is he fast enough?' All I know is theycan't catch him. He was a heck of a football player and Amani is the same way.All these guys fell under the radar a bit, but they are really good footballplayers. They are very impactful in the games they play in.''

Hooker, named first-team All-BigTen by the league's coaches and media, is tied for the team lead ininterceptions with four (which also ranked second in the Big Ten). Iowa is tiedfor the national lead with 18 interceptions and their two-season total of 39picks is more than any other school during that span.

Hooker also ranks second on theteam in tackles (59) and added 3.5 tackles for a loss.

But like Ferentz stated, sometimesnumbers don't tell the complete story.

It's about impact.

Hooker's first start as Iowa's freesafety occurred in 2017 against Penn State. He finished with 13 tackles,including an eye-popping effort when he raced into the frame to drag down starNittany Lions running back Saquon Barkley.

Against Ohio State last season,Hooker stepped in front of a receiver to intercept a J.T. Barrett pass and takeit 30 yards for a touchdown, jump-starting a mammoth 55-24 upset of theBuckeyes.

In the Pinstripe Bowl againstBoston College, Hooker had 12 tackles, including two in which he chased downreceivers from behind to help prevent touchdowns.

Impact.

"Amani makes plays,'' Ferentz said.

Hooker just considers it his job.He also feels like he's holding up his part of the bargain when it comes toHawkeye tradition.

"I've seen guys come in and workhard and get to the league like Desmond King and Josh Jackson,'' Hooker said."So I know what it takes and I'm just trying to do the same thing.''

Hooker is excellent against the runand can also cover receivers in space, so his versatility has become a majorasset. It's why he split time between the secondary and linebacker, allowingIowa to utilize different personnel and become better as a defense.

Versatility always has beenHooker's trademark. In high school, he played defensive back, quarterback,running back and wide receiver, finishing as a finalist for Minnesota's Mr.Football.

But Hooker, a Minneapolis native,didn't draw much notice from his hometown Minnesota Golden Gophers. He took hisgame to Iowa.

Everyone notices Hooker now. He's aplaymaker, an excellent teammate and now, part of a growing tradition ofstandout defensive backs at Iowa.