PITTSBURGH (93-7 THE FAN) — The infamous events involving former Ohio State head football coach Jim Tressel that dissuaded some WPIAL youth from going there have not stopped the new regime under Urban Meyer from pursuing western PA talent, and the Buckeyes have added a significant name to their 2014 freshman class.
New Castle athlete Malik Hooker, accomplished both on the gridiron and in the gym, has verbally committed to Ohio State for football Monday, choosing OSU out of a diverse dozen programs–including Pitt–that had offered him.
“I feel like I can fit in the system well,” he told Adam Friedman of Rivals.com, which ranks him among the top 25 overall prospects in the Commonwealth. “I love the school. When I think about Ohio State I get a great feeling. I like their staff. I haven’t met any of their players but I really like their staff. They were recruiting me really hard.”
Hooker (6’2″, 180 lbs.) is being groomed for the Buckeyes’ secondary by defensive coordinator Luke Fickell, who came to Lawrence County to see him back in May.
If he really wanted to, could probably have shown Thad Matta a thing or two as well. He made the Post-Gazette All-Section Teams (Sec. 3-AAAA) as a junior guard averaging nearly 17 points per game for the Red Hurricane, who became the first to win back-to-back WPIAL championships in different classifications with back-to-back perfect records in district play.
In any event, New Castle, coming off an off year that ended with a 4-5 overall record and playoff miss, could sneak back into the postseason with a plentiful senior class that includes Hooker. He was the Red Hurricane’s top playmaker, scoring 11 touchdowns, averaging 9.5 yards per carry, and catching 13 passes for a whopping 333 yards (video courtesy of FinestPreps.com):
One of the more fascinating–and, for both teams, difficult–one-on-one battles of the entire WPIAL season could come in Week 1 when Parkway Conference champion Central Valley hosts the Red Hurricane. Expect Hooker to be matched up against rising star Jordan Whitehead, who should ultimately be one of the biggest names in the 2015 WPIAL senior class.
Ohio State could look to Aliquippa for further help on defense. The skillful running of senior Dravon Henry has bolstered the Quips to back-to-back WPIAL Class AA championships, and the Buckeyes, along with Pitt, Penn State, and West Virginia are in Henry’s top four.
Henry (5’11″, 180 lbs.), an All-PIAA selection also ranked as a top-five Pennsylvania defensive back by 247sports.com, ran for 1,857 yards in 2012–fourth in the district and second in Class AA only to Washington’s Shai McKenzie–and racked up 27 rush TD’s. With Henry as the heartbeat of Mike Zmijanac’s offense, the Quips look primed for another title shot (video courtesy of FinestPreps.com):
He grew up rooting for the Scarlet and Grey, and he is not only fond of the program’s tradition of excellence, but of Meyer himself, so the Buckeyes appear to have as good a shot as any at landing Henry.
According to regional recruiting analyst Brian Dohn of Scout.com, Penn State might be a long shot for Henry simply due to volume of remaining scholarships. Furthermore, that school’s ties to Aliquippa are not historically strong.
Having said that, Henry seems to have a very good rapport with defensive coordinator John Butler, and he also seemed particularly keen on the Mountaineers when he visited with safeties coach Tony Gibson, a former Pitt assistant, this week.
Additionally, he has met with Pitt defensive coordinator Matt House and linebackers coach Chris Haering (formerly of WPIAL power Mount Lebanon), and had a productive stay at the school’s 7-on-7 camp earlier this summer.
“I like the facilities. It’s close to home, and you can’t go wrong with that,” Henry told Dohn. “I like the locker room…and, all-around, it was nice, and it was a nice field, because it’s the Steelers’ field.”
In contrast to Hooker, Henry has been a little bit more deliberate. He still plans to visit a few schools outside his top four, and he says he won’t publicly commit until after the approaching season.
(Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and/or follow me on Twitter @mpopchock.)