Iowa Football

Iowa's Amani Hooker comes home to try to ruin Minnesota's Homecoming

Iowa junior safety from Minneapolis has done a lot in his short time as a starter

Iowa defensive back Amani Hooker dives into the end zone for a touchdown after intercepting an Ohio State pass on the first play of the game at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Saturday, Nov.  4, 2017. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
Iowa defensive back Amani Hooker dives into the end zone for a touchdown after intercepting an Ohio State pass on the first play of the game at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Saturday, Nov. 4, 2017. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
/

IOWA CITY — Two years ago, Amani Hooker’s brother was a villain in Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

University of North Dakota senior basketball player Quinton Hooker guarded Iowa’s Jordan Bohannon tightly. Bohannon’s irritated reaction got him a technical foul. Twenty-five seconds later, Hooker committed a hard foul on Peter Jok. That was all in the game’s final 37 seconds, after the Hawkeyes had secured victory in the 84-73 game.

But there was no quit in Quinton. He scored 18 points that night, tallied 25 in the Fighting Hawks’ first-round NCAA tournament loss to Arizona three months later, and totaled 1,787 in his North Dakota career. He went to Iowa City to compete and win.

So did his brother, who has known only love here. Amani, a junior safety on Iowa’s football team, comes home to Minneapolis Saturday when the Hawkeyes play Minnesota.

“He has a lot of fans here,” said his mother, Janice Hooker.

Iowa was the only major-college program to seriously recruit him. Minnesota wasn’t interested.

The Hawkeyes’ football guys weren’t the only coaches trying to steer Amani south. So did Quinton’s North Dakota basketball coach.

“I remember when they told me Amani was getting recruited by Iowa,” said Brian Jones, an assistant coach for Steve Alford at Iowa from 1999-2006. “I immediately got my recruiting hat on for the Hawks.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

“I knew it would be a great fit for Amani so I started pitching the school, community, and obviously the program.”

It’s easy to see in hindsight, but this was a Minnesota miss. The Gophers signed four defensive backs and 11 Minnesotans among their Class of 2016.

“I was a little surprised,” Hooker said. “I’d been to four of their camps throughout my high school career. But I guess I wasn’t the right fit they were looking for.”

He said he “obviously” would have looked at Minnesota had it pursued him, but “I wouldn’t say I’d have gone there.”

“We’re fortunate Wisconsin didn’t want Toren Young (Iowa running back from Madison) and Minnesota didn’t want Amani,” Iowa recruiting coordinator Seth Wallace said. “I really believe that.

“I had just taken over the Minnesota area and found Amani. It wasn’t necessarily luck. I asked some other high school coaches in the area who to check on. They told me about a kid at Park Central.

“His older brother had a bunch of accolades (he was Minnesota’s 2013 prep Mr. Basketball) there in basketball. Amani found his niche in football and made the most of it. In Amani’s senior year he played some quarterback, some receiver. He returned kickoffs and punts. He started to grow on us.”

“Seemed like he scored eight touchdowns every game, intercepted three and all that kind of stuff,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said. “If a guy’s in the middle of things all the time that’s a good sign.”

Hooker was on special teams as a first-year freshman at Iowa. He made his first start at safety in last season’s fourth game, against Penn State. He had an open-field tackle on All-America running back Saquon Barkley at the Iowa 10 that prevented a touchdown.

In November, Hooker intercepted a pass on the first play of the game and returned it 30 yards for an Iowa touchdown against Ohio State in the Hawkeyes’ 55-24 upset.

“That was his childhood dream team,” said Raynard Hooker, Amani’s father. “I remember going to my wife’s hometown for Christmas and Amani got kind of an Ohio State letter jacket as a present when he was 5 or 6.”

“I just liked the stars on the helmets and the silver-and-red uniforms looked cool,” Amani said.

Making that tone-setting play against the Buckeyes was, he said, “something I dreamed about and it happened.”

“We hadn’t even gotten settled in our seats,” his father said. “All of a sudden it was ‘Oh! Amani got that! Oh man, great pick!’

“Then it was ‘Ohhhh!’ He scored!”

Hooker missed the last three regular-season games with a bruised knee, but returned for Iowa’s Pinstripe Bowl win over Boston College. He had 12 tackles, two that saved touchdowns. He was named to the All-Bowl teams of Associated Press and USA TODAY, and has been one of the defense’s leaders this season.

Raynard Hooker played football at Wayne State College in Nebraska. “I wasn’t a 4.4 kid (in the 40-yard dash),” he said. “That’s probably why I played at that level.”

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

Thank you for signing up for our e-newsletter!

You should start receiving the e-newsletters within a couple days.

But he and his wife must be blue-chippers when it comes to parenting. They also have two daughters. Chelsea is a registered nurse and Brehana works for Delta Air Lines.

“We really feel blessed,” Raynard said. “Our kids are able to live their dreams.”

Quinton will have to follow Saturday’s game from France, where he is playing pro basketball.

“Amani is one of the hardest-working people I know,” Quinton said in an email. “He was always a good athlete growing up and early in high school, but then from around his junior year of high school to now at Iowa, he has stepped everything about his life up. Seeing him transform his habits and attitude on and off the field is what I give him the most credit for.

“I’m just so proud, and I know the rest of the family is too, of how much he has grown as a young man.”

Amani returned the praise, saying Quinton “holds himself to a higher standard. He’s a great dude, a responsible dude.

“Our parents raised us to be responsible, work hard and never quit. I guess me and him have that same attitude.”

Those who jeered Quinton Hooker in Carver that 2016 night may want to let bygones be bygones. Quinton is part of a Minnesota family that was a North Dakota family and is now an Iowa family. Saturday is the Gophers’ Homecoming game. But it also is Amani Hooker’s.

l Comments: (319) 368-8840; mike.hlas@thegazette.com

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.

CONTINUE READING

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.