Nov. 27, 2002
He's played offense, including a game-winning touchdown against Colorado in 2000, and the second of three crucial catches on Washington's dramatic three-play, 80-yard, last-minute drive to beat Stanford that same season. He's played special teams, building a reputation as one of the conference's biggest hitters for drilling opposing players as the gunner - the first man downfield - on the Huskies' punt cover team. So it's fitting that, two weeks ago at Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Ore., senior Wilbur Hooks, Jr. made his debut on the UW defense, filling in at safety due to injuries to James Sims, Jr. and Jimmy Newell. Against the Ducks, Hooks made one reception on offense, saw an interception bounce off of his fingertips on defense, and stripped Oregon's Keenan Howry of the football for a crucial turnover on special teams. Last week, Hooks saw triple duty again and made his biggest play on defense, forcing a fumble by Washington State receiver Mike Bush in the third quarter of the Huskies' 29-26 win. When his football career ends this month after UW's bowl game, Hooks will return to his first passion, music. He and his R&B group, 4Pleasure, have already cut two CDs, and opened for both Coolio and Boyz II Men at concerts in Hooks' native Alaska.
GoHuskies.com: How was the switch to defense?
Wilbur Hooks, Jr.: "It was crazy, to be honest with you and sum it up in one word. It was fun, though. It was a lot of work in terms of trying to do the right things out there and having the other guys out there have confidence in me. It was weird, but I hope I did well."
GH: Was it a surprise when the coaches approached you?
Hooks: "It was a surprise. It was before practice Wednesday afternoon, before the Oregon game. Coach Neuheisel came up to me and put his arm around me and said, 'James Sims is down.' He kind of looked at me and smiled, and I was like, 'No way!' He just told me he thought I could do well over there and I told him, 'Whatever I need to do to help the team win, coach.' He said, 'Alright, let's try it out.'"
GH: That must have been quite a moment. Were you a little overwhelmed, since you already playa big role on special teams and offense?
Hooks: "It was cool. He came to me earlier in my career, when I was a redshirt freshman, and wanted me to play safety then. Back then, Hakim Akbar and Curtis Williams were there - guys we players call 'hogs,' the real-deal guys - and I didn't have that mentality of laying players out like Akbar and C-Dub did. I've always had a receiver mentality and wanted to be in the limelight catching touchdown passes.. I knew I had a safety's background, having been an athlete coming in here from high school. I wanted to do the receiver route, but he asked me [about playing defense] and I followed up with it. Like I said, hopefully I did well."
GH: Even a freshman straight out of high school usually makes his debut at home, in a non-conference game. You, on the other hand, were thrown into Autzen Stadium - one of the loudest stadiums in the country - in perhaps the most crucial game of Washington's season. What kind of difficulties did you face?
Hooks: "It was crazy; it was something else. I came in and learned some of the defense on Thursday morning with Greg Carothers and some of the guys, and just tried to learn everything I needed to do so I wouldn't be out there looking like a fool. The first couple of plays I backed up a little farther than I was supposed to be at free safety, just to kind of get myself to 'O.K., this is where I'm at, and I can figure this stuff out.' You just go through play calls and figure out what you are supposed to do. It was fun at the same time. It wasn't really a nervousness, it was a want to do well at that position."
GH: So now that you've been on both sides of the ball, which is your preference?
Hooks: "I still prefer being a receiver, for sure. I love being able to catch the ball. To have the kind of mentality like Greg Carothers and Owen Biddle, those guys laying out and everything ... I'll tackle you, but I've always had the want to get the ball, not knock it down."
GH: You had such a great first game though! Particularly on special teams, where you snatched that ball away from Keenan Howry. The camera angle didn't give fans a good look at it, so it was hard to tell whether you had a good swipe at the ball or if you just tapped it out of his arm. Could you give us a little more detail?
GH: "In all honesty, what happened was, I was running down the field and I noticed Sam Cunningham had his left shoulder bracketed with Keenan Howry, which is how you're supposed to do it - you're supposed to have your inside shoulder bracketed on the ball. I knew Howry had nowhere to go beside in between us, which is where he should go; he shouldn't try to go to the outside. Howry gave me a good move, kind of a false step to the right, and had me leaning over to the left - he got me with his move. All I really could do at that point was swipe at the ball, because I knew I wasn't going to be able to tackle him. I hit it just enough to knock it out. It was cool."
GH: How exciting was that? People are saying that you're the first true three-way Husky player since Jim Lambright, back in the '50s.
Hooks: "It was a great feeling. I was psyched out! It was such a huge game for me individually, and such a huge game for this program, to go into Autzen Stadium and play well like we did. I was just happy we pulled the win out in the fashion that we did. It just kind of shows the resolve this team has and adversity we go through. It was great."
GH: Now, for four-plus years you've sported a goatee, but I see that you've shaved it off. Is this an effort to delineate "Receiver Hooks" from "Safety Hooks?"
Hooks: "What's funny is that Elliott Zajac and I told some other people here, some other media, that we've been 2-0 since I've shaved, and Zajac goes 'We'll make sure he shaves for this week too!' In all honesty, I usually cut my hair every two weeks and I just decided to shave it all off. That's just my deal, and I switched it up a bit."
GH: Maybe you should keep the clean look for your next CD jacket cover. The ladies would love it. Are you excited to get back into music?
Hooks: "Yeah, I am. It's always been a hobby of mine and I get joy singing randomly, but I'm looking forward to getting back with the guys in my group and getting things started back up again. It's always been a big joy of mine; I love that more than playing football even."
GH: I know you can't make money off your music while you're in college, because of the NCAA amateurism rules, but when football season ends, are you already under contract?
Hooks: "Well, no. We're going to go out there and try to get a contract; that's the plan this time. Before it was to just do it for fun. We fell into a lot of different things, and we were at the right place at the right time with some producers there. So we want to go out there now and put stuff on tracks, and see if we can make it. Even if we don't, though, the fact that we're making music has always been a big joy in all our lives. We just want to continue on trying to do that."
GH: This is way out of left field, but if your hometown of Anchorage, was awarded an NFL expansion team, what would they be called?
Hooks: "That would be prime, but I don't even know! They would figure out something ... the Glaciers, or something. Could be the Huskies too, actually."
GH: Back to singing for a minute. Did you hear J-Lo and Ben Affleck are getting married? He's her third husband in three years! What kind of odds do you give that one?
Hooks: "I don't think that's going to last. I don't know!"
GH: Hmm, that makes me wonder ... if you do hit it big in the R&B world, is J-Lo going to be up on the auction block for you?
Hooks: "If my singing career does blow up, the only thing she would be on my auction block for is if she could be featured in one of my songs, or I could be featured in one of hers. That's about it though! I don't think I would date J-Lo. I wouldn't want Puffy Combs or any of those guys getting mad at me. I'll stay away from her!"
GoHuskies.com correspondent Steve Hitchcock contributed to this report.