New Castle's Malik Hooker already made a name for himself in basketball. But he apparently has made a big future for himself in football.
Hooker's story is an unusual one. He is a New Castle junior who played high school football for the first time this past season. Despite his inexperience, the 6-foot-2 1/2, 190-pound receiver-defensive back apparently showed enough that he is starting to -- in recruiting vernacular -- "blow up" in the college recruiting world.
In the past month or so, Hooker got football scholarship offers from Pitt, Penn State, West Virginia, Arizona and Buffalo. Ohio State assistant Luke Fickell came to visit New Castle on Wednesday. The Buckeyes are expected to make a scholarship offer to Hooker when he makes an unofficial visit to the school. Michigan also came to New Castle on Wednesday.
Hooker's head might be spinning from the attention -- in two different sports. A guard, he helped the New Castle basketball team to a second consecutive WPIAL title this season and made the Post-Gazette Fabulous 5 all-star team. He is playing AAU basketball now, and Division I colleges Florida Atlantic, Cleveland State and Saint Francis are showing interest. The Naval Academy already has said it will take Hooker, who has a 3.5 grade-point average.
"As I sit back, I kind of laugh about it because I never thought one year of football would get me as many big offers as I have," Hooker said. "I didn't really have any expectations for football. Coach [Joe Cowart] asked me to come out, and I said I might as well do it because I thought that, no matter the sport, I'm a good enough athlete to compete."
Hooker said he has not decided which sport he wants to play.
"I want to keep all of my options open," he said.
New Castle basketball coach Ralph Blundo said, "He's going to have to make a decision with a sport in the future. As much as he likes basketball, the opportunities he might have in football and the level of interest he has from schools in football is off the charts, compared to basketball. ... I want him to have every opportunity and I've told him two things: Enjoy all of this because it's special and just keep working hard."
Two in one season
While Hooker is obviously a stellar two-sport athlete, an athlete at Seneca Valley is a standout two-sport athlete -- in the same season.
Seneca Valley's Jon Dorogy is a proven baseball talent, a starting outfielder on two WPIAL Class AAAA championship teams. This spring, he also is a top sprinter in WPIAL track.
Dorogy, a senior, goes to track practice and meets when it doesn't conflict with the Raiders' baseball schedule. His 100-meter dash time of 10.92 seconds is the second-best in Class AAA this spring. He is fifth in the 200 at 22.53 and also has run on Seneca Valley's 400 relay team that has the WPIAL's best time of 43.03 seconds.
Dorogy has been a successful sprinter in indoor track during the past few winters. But he didn't run outdoor track until this spring. On top of all that, he was a standout slotback on Seneca Valley's football team and led the team in receptions last season. He will play football next season at The Citadel.
It is questionable whether you will see Dorogy at the WPIAL track championships. It all depends if the qualifiers or championships conflict with a Seneca Valley baseball playoff game.
It's hard to believe a player would be so clutch this many times in a Major League Baseball season, let alone a high school season.
Three times this season, Central Catholic senior P.J. DeMeo has come up in the bottom of the seventh, with two outs and Central Catholic trailing by a run. DeMeo has answered with a home run every time to send the game into extra innings.
DeMeo is a senior infielder and a Pitt recruit. He has five home runs for the year and is one of the reasons Central Catholic is one of the top teams in Class AAAA of the WPIAL.
Dealing with the heat
The official start of high school football practice is only a little more than three months away. But the start of practice will be unlike any previous year.
That's because all teams in Pennsylvania must go through three days of the PIAA's new "heat acclimatization practices." The practices limit contact and also have time limits.
Under the rule, teams are permitted to wear only helmets and shoulder pads with shorts the first two days of practice -- with no contact. They are allowed to wear full gear on the third day, with contact. The practices are limited to five hours daily and no practice can be more than three hours, with a minimum two-hour recovery period in between.
However, teams can go through the "heat acclimatization practices" the week before the official start of practice Aug. 12, but not before Aug. 7. If teams go through the practices the week before, they still are not allowed full contact until Aug. 12.
No player is allowed to play in a scrimmage or game unless he has gone through three "heat acclimatization practices." Other states have similar rules.
The practices pertain to football only because, as a PIAA statement reads, "The amount of protective equipment that must be worn by [football players] does not allow for the body to cool off through perspiration in a normal fashion. Other sports do not have these requirements and coupled with the fact that 52 football players, 41 in high school, have died since 1995 to heat-related causes has raised the awareness nationally to provide for a preseason football acclimatization program."
New Brighton gets grant
The New Brighton Recreation Commission was awarded a $59,150 grant by the Baseball Tomorrow Fund for the renovation of a field used by the high school, American Legion and youth travel teams.
In addition to the grant for Memorial Field, The Toro Co. also donated turf equipment to help the grounds crew with maintenance on the field.
The Baseball Tomorrow Fund is an initiative between the Major League Baseball Players Association and Major League Baseball designed to promote the growth of youth baseball and softball by awarding grants to support field renovation projects, uniform purchases and coaches training.