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By DARREN MILLER
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Amani Hooker was nonexistent for the final three games of Iowa’s 2017 football season and it had nothing to do with his quality of play.
A contusion over his right knee swelled so much that it kept Hooker from taking the field against Wisconsin, Purdue, and Nebraska. Two of those three games ended in the loss column for the Hawkeyes.
That makes for a decent final two games for the then-sophomore Hooker: a 55-24 win over No. 3 Ohio State where he opened the scoring with a 30-yard pick-six and the New Era Pinstripe Bowl, where he led the Hawkeyes with 12 tackles.
And two colossal hustle plays.
Here’s a refresher:
With Boston College leading 14-10 near the end of the second quarter, Eagles running back A.J. Dillon broke free toward Iowa’s end zone. Hooker tracked him down after a 66-yard gain and Boston College was held to a field goal that kept it a one-possession game.
Early in the fourth quarter with Iowa leading, 20-17, Eagles quarterback Darius Wade completed a pass to tight end Tommy Sweeney, who appeared destined for a go-ahead touchdown. But Hooker did it again, stopping Sweeney at Iowa’s 7-yard-line after a 48-yard gain. Boston College tied the game with a 24-yard field goal, in what turned out to be a momentum boost for the Hawkeyes.
Those two plays could have resulted in 14 points. Instead, Boston College was held to six and Iowa won its first bowl game since 2010, 27-20.
“I remember both plays,” Hooker said. “(Boston College) broke away and could have scored touchdowns and that would have been hard for us to come back from. That (effort) comes from coach (Phil) Parker and coach (Seth) Wallace and what they stress about hustle plays and getting to the ball. It comes from practice and getting those reps and then they actually happen in the game and help us win games.”
Iowa running back Akrum Wadley was a worthy Pinstripe Bowl Most Valuable Player with 283 all-purpose yards. With eight solo tackles and four assists, Hooker made a solid case for defensive MVP if the award was selected. His biggest plays show up in the box score as simply two tackles.
The stops were much more significant.
“Amani is that kind of football player, he plays full throttle,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “Those plays underscore the importance that every play is important and every guy on every play is important, too. It is never too late to try to get there and it might make a huge difference in the game.”
It made a huge difference in Hooker’s development as well. Since he missed the final three regular-season games of 2017, he wanted to come out playing physical and attacking in the Pinstripe Bowl.
“It carried over to spring ball, that same mentality, just attacking and improving every day,” Hooker said.
Hooker is preparing for more heroics at the 2019 Outback Bowl on Jan. 1 in Tampa, Florida. After a 12-game regular season where he made 59 tackles, seven pass break-ups, and four interceptions, Hooker was named Iowa’s defensive most valuable player, Tatum-Woodson Big Ten Defensive Back of the Year, and second-team All-America by The Associated Press.
“What a great reward for a fantastic season,” Ferentz said. “Typically our players build to a level that is impressive and that’s certainly the case with Amani. He has an energy to him that good defensive players tend to have.”