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July 30, 2013

Players aren't alone learning recruiting process

MORE: Hooker chooses Buckeyes

Dallas Jackson is the National Columnist for Rivals.com. Email him your comments or story ideas to DallasJ@Yahoo-Inc.com and follow him on Twitter.

HOOVER, Ala. -- Sitting in the office of Ohio State coach Urban Meyer can be a uniquely intimidating experience.

New Castle (Pa.) Senior High athlete Malik Hooker, who committed to the Buckeyes on Monday, knows as much. The 6-foot-2, 183-pound prospect has 14 offers. Before his commitment, he named a top six that included Penn State, Pittsburgh, Michigan, Virginia Tech and West Virginia. He is the first player from his school to go through a major recruiting process since Allen Billyk signed with Virginia in the class of 2003.

The intimidation doesn't stop with the player. Hooker's head coach, Joe Cowart, said he has to make sure he stays grounded when being asked into the office of high-profile coaches.

"We are on those campuses talking with Bill O'Brien, talking with Paul Chryst and talking with Urban Meyer, and it is amazing," Cowart said. "I look over at Malik, and he is wide-eyed -- I mean really taking it all in -- and then I realize that I am wide-eyed, trying to take it all in as well.

"I am enjoying it maybe more than him. Instead of being just another coach during spring practices, there are some big-time coaches who make it a point to talk with me and allow me to sit down and get insights into the game and into recruiting."

Cowart is in his second season as the head coach at New Castle. The 32-year-old nephew of New Castle coaching legend Lindy Lauro was hired by a 5-3 vote over former Penn State and NFL player Bruce Clark in April of last year. He is a graduate of the high school, and he worked as an assistant for four years before being promoted.

Hooker is in just his second season playing football. The two-way athlete has only nine games of experience after being a standout basketball player.

At the recently completed National Select 7-on-7 presented by Under Armour, he said that while he is still learning the game he is enjoying all of the attention.

"Honestly, I don't know how all of this is happening; I really can't believe it," Hooker said. "I just went out and followed what my coaches told me to do.

"It is really cool, too. It is rare for kids at my school to get the offers that I do, and everyone is proud of what we are doing. The whole city is so supportive."

Cowart is getting plenty of opportunities to learn the recruiting process.

His quarterback and free safety, Julian Cox, is being recruited by Villanova to play football and baseball. The team's running back and cornerback, Jake McPhatter has an offer from Ball State and is gaining interest from Eastern Michigan and Temple.

The majority of the attention is being paid to Hooker. Like his prospect going through the process for the first time, Cowart is learning how to handle it.

"As new as all of this is for Malik, it is new to me as well," he said. "He was a diamond in the rough because he didn't play in ninth or 10th grade, but once people started seeing him it became fast and furious.

"He and I are walking through this all together. We are meeting some big-time recruiters and having the chance to learn how all of this happens. When it happens and why things happen. He is getting to experience something that very few kids from our school have, and I am getting to pick the brains of some guys that very few people get to talk to."

Cowart also learned how quickly the fire can spread.

A former Division III football player at Allegheny College, Cowart had lower-level coaching friends. One such acquaintance was working at Washington & Jefferson College in Pennsylvania before taking a graduate assistant position at Arizona.

That relationship led to a Wildcats offer for Hooker.

"We had a small senior class last year and it was mainly Division II and Division III schools coming by to do their due diligence, but I had film on Malik cut and they all said he was a no-brainer," Cowart said. "One of the guys I played against was at W&J and took the film. About a month later, he was at Arizona as a GA and told me that he was making sure the recruiter for our area was getting it and then he came through with an offer.

"Buffalo was first, but after people find out that the offers are coming in, it really speeds up. Arizona, Pitt and Penn State came through in the spring and loved him, and they all offered."

Rivals.com regional analyst Woody Wommack saw Hooker at the National Select event and came away with the same impression that college coaches are having.

"Hooker was the best prospect on the New Castle roster, and he played like it," Wommack said. "His athleticism paid dividends in the passing game, where he made several big plays."

Throughout the tournament, Hooker routinely showcased his basketball skill set. He outjumped defenders for the ball and flashed his speed, taking multiple drag passes to the edge and upfield for scores.

Playing in the difficult WPIAL Parkway Conference, there will be plenty of attention paid to New Castle and Hooker this season.

Cowart said all are welcome to see what his program has to offer.

"Malik gave me the access to really find out what Division I coaches are looking for, and I intend on using that knowledge," he said. "We have some guys who I now know are deserving of that attention.

"It is because of him that we all know the process better. It has been something that I may not have learned otherwise."



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