A conversation with Malik Hooker is filled with "yes, sirs" and "no, sirs."
When asked if he answers everybody with so many "yes, sirs" Hooker naturally said: "Yes, sir. My mom always told me to be respectful to elders and people who are older because it will pay off in the long run."
The whole respect thing seems kind of funny coming from Hooker because in high school sports, Hooker often seemed like the man among boys.
A senior at New Castle High School, Hooker played football and basketball. He was The Human Highlight Film of the WPIAL. Heck, he appeared on ESPN for SportsCenter's top 10 plays twice with dunks.
It didn't matter the sport. The 6-foot-2, 190-pound Hooker was often on a different level with a rare blend of traits. He could be strong and powerful one minute, but skillful and acrobatic the next.
Hooker will play football at Ohio State and already is in Columbus taking classes and working out with the Buckeyes. Coaches -- in basketball and football -- believe Hooker has a very bright future. But this past season, he shined like no other athlete in Western Pennsylvania.
Hooker is the Post-Gazette Male Athlete of the Year. The award takes into consideration all athletes in the WPIAL and City League. The first winner of the award was Central Catholic's Dan Marino 35 years ago.
"When you put everything together for Malik, he really has unique athleticism," said Joe Cowart, New Castle's football coach. "I don't think there is anything you can put on his plate where he would say, 'I can't do that.' He really can do anything and he can do it at a level few guys can."
This should tell you enough about Hooker's marvelous athletic ability: He made the Post-Gazette Fabulous 22 in football and the Post-Gazette Fabulous 5 in basketball. He also was the PG Player of the Year in basketball.
In football, he played receiver and defensive back and returned kicks. He scored 13 touchdowns and stood out on defense (he will play defensive back at Ohio State). He helped New Castle to a 7-3 record and a playoff spot in the WPIAL Class AAA.
In basketball, Hooker was a four-year varsity player and helped New Castle win three consecutive WPIAL titles. He capped his career in grand fashion, leading New Castle to a perfect 31-0 season -- the first WPIAL boys team in 31 years to go through a season undefeated.
Hooker did everything for New Castle, averaging 21.9 points, 9.4 rebounds, 3.9 steals, 2 blocks and shot 61 percent from the field. He took 21 charges and finished as the second-leading scorer in school history with 1,627 points.
He routinely had jaw-dropping plays, something that showed his unique athleticism.
"He had so many of those 'splash' plays," said New Castle basketball coach Ralph Blundo. "You never could throw the ball over his head. I remember [Ohio State football coach] Urban Meyer came to a basketball game and there was a sideline pass and Malik just exploded and snatched it out of the air. It was a simple play, but people who understand sports know there was no one else in the WPIAL who could make that play.
"[Ohio State assistant coach] Luke Fickell called me the other night and said Malik ran a [4.56-second] 40 at a workout, with no technique and basically just standing from a ready, set, go position. He said their strength and conditioning coach looked at him and said, 'Oh my God, I can do something special with this kid.' "
Hooker always thought basketball was his top sport. He still loves basketball and misses it. He didn't play football as a freshman and sophomore and finally went out for football as a junior. By the spring of his junior year, he had scholarship offers from many Division I colleges. He decided on Ohio State before his senior year.
While things seem to come easy to Hooker in sports, it hasn't always been easy for him. He lived in the projects until he was 15, when he, his mother and four siblings moved to the North Hill section of New Castle. His father isn't part of his life, but his mother, Angela Dennis, is influential.
"She's my super woman. She sacrificed a lot and gave up what she could," Hooker said. "She always used to sit me down and say 'You're not going to live around here [in New Castle] your whole life.' She got me into sports early and I knew it could be my ticket to get me out of the projects and out of New Castle.
"Regardless of what I do in the future, if I get to the NFL or in a business or something, I just want to be able to make the money to take care of my mom and my family."
Mike White: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1975 and Twitter @mwhiteburgh