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Playmaking Safety Malik Hooker Ready To Make NFL Impact

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Ohio State safety Malik Hooker's ballhawk mindset allowed him to have a breakout season in 2016. Now, he's ready to take his abilities to the next level as a likely high first-round pick later this month.

Coming out of New Castle, Pa., Malik Hooker's athleticism was undeniable as he had the opportunity to play Division I-A basketball and football after a notable high school playing career.

Hooker made the decision to play safety for Ohio State. He redshirted as a freshman and played as a reserve in 2015 due to the team's hefty lineup at that position.

As a redshirt sophomore in 2016, Hooker became the Buckeyes' starting free safety. Hooker burst onto the scene as one of the nation's top players, recording 74 tackles including 5.5 for loss and intercepting seven passes (tied for second nationally).

"Just having the mindset that any ball that's in the air, it's my ball. I feel like I'm a playmaker," Hooker said at the 2017 NFL Combine in Indianapolis. "Any time I had a chance to make a play or change momentum of a game; I took it upon myself to do so. I feel like it's just a mindset. Either you feel like you're a dog out there or you're not."

His breakout season earned him first-team All-American and All-Big Ten recognition.

After just one outstanding year as a starter added to a brief college football career, Hooker decided he was ready for the draft and entered early. He's projected to be one of the top players off the board later this month.                          

"I feel like I'm a special player capable of doing a lot of things," Hooker said. "I had a great coaching staff as well behind me to get me to be the player that I am. I was playing with a lot of special players as well, and I feel like every day I went to practice I was competing against the best of the best. I give a lot of credit to the scout team players and also a lot of the starters on the offense, because without them, I wouldn't get half the looks that I had throughout the year."

Check out these photos of Malik Hooker, safety out of The Ohio State University.

In addition to the concern over his inexperience, however, Hooker endured a few injuries and played through them until the end of the season. As a precaution, he underwent surgery for a torn labrum in his hip and a sports hernia earlier this year.

"My thought was, 'Wow, I didn't think it was that bad,'" Hooker said. "Like I said, I played through the Clemson game with it. When you hear of a tear, like ACL tear, something like that, guys can't tend to run. My first thought was, it's that bad, I was out there all day running around and playing like that. I could play through it. I mean, I probably wouldn't be as healthy or still definitely probably hurt. But after the season I talked to my coaches and I figured I was going to declare for the draft. I feel like in order for me to go out there and compete with the best of the best in the National Football League, I feel it was necessary because I wasn't 100 percent or nowhere near it. It was probably 78 percent, 75 and like I said couldn't really break stride as well as I wanted to." 

As part of his recovery, Hooker was unable to perform on-field drills at the NFL Combine or his pro day, but he remains confident about his standing in the draft.

"I really wouldn't pay no mind into that, just simply because the film says what it says," Hooker said. "I feel like a lot of teams will want me to be healthy for the year coming in because surgery was my decision. It wasn't like I needed the surgery; I decided to do that because at that point of the season, I knew I made the decision I was going to declare for this upcoming draft. It was more so preparing myself to get ready for rookie minicamp coming up."                                                   

Despite his obstacles and concerns as a prospect, Hooker's abilities have been enough to project him as a top pick in the upcoming draft.

"I say it's mostly a blessing," Hooker said. "Not a lot of guys can have the opportunity to say they're the top-five or top-10, or even first-round draft pick playing one year of football. It's definitely a blessing. I look back to my foundation; I had faith in God throughout my whole process of college football and just training. I believe that there's a plan there. So I feel like I'm not in this predicament just because it was lucky, I feel like it was planned out from here before."

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