By JOSH SIGLER KOKOMO TRIBUNE
---- — TIPTON — By his own description, Austin Hooker was “numb.”
After trying to shake off a tackler in Tipton’s Week 2 game against Elwood, the southpaw quarterback hurt his non-throwing wrist on his way to the ground.
A trip to the hospital and subsequent X-ray images revealed his worst fears: A broken radius.
“The pain, not knowing how long I was going to be out – at first I assumed it would be the season,” Hooker said. “I wasn’t sure. Everything was just numb.”
His coach was just as crushed. Aaron Tolle watched as, without Hooker the following four weeks, The Blue Devils went 1-3, including a three-game skid that slid the team back to 3-3 after a 3-0 start.
“It wasn’t a very good feeling,” Tolle said. “I had a multitude of things going through my mind. I know how much I think of this senior class and what our aspirations where for the season. And, on that one play, I wasn’t sure if all of that had gone up in smoke.”
Hooker was determined to make sure opponents hadn’t heard the last of him. He had surgery the Tuesday following the injury, and at 3 p.m. later that day, instead of resting off the surgery at home, he went to football practice to be with his team. He began rehabilitating his arm nearly the instant doctors cleared him to.
“You have to know Austin to understand,” Tolle said. “Most other kids would want people to feel sorry for him, but not Austin. He knew he needed to be out in front of his team and show he was going to be okay and that he was on the way back. That’s the kind of kid he is. That’s what he stands for. Our kids certainly rally around him, there’s no doubt about that.”
He returned in Week 7 and has played with a renewed fervor. The 2A No. 7-ranked Blue Devils are 7-0 since, and now stand one win away from a berth in the state finals after last Friday’s 56-2 win over Oak Hill in the regional championship.
“He’s been extremely, extremely motivated after missing four games of his senior year,” Tolle said. “In hindsight, that may have been something that was a positive thing. Obviously I never want to see a kid get hurt like that, but I think he’s playing at an even higher level because of it.”
In just a little over eight games of action, Hooker has completed 84 of 145 passes for 1,321 yards, 13 touchdowns and three interceptions, while running for 510 yards and 14 more TDs on 87 carries. His three TD passes in the win over Oak Hill gave him 79 for his career.
“It’s a lot easier to see how important it is to take care of what we have in front of us, and take advantage of the opportunities we have right now,” Hooker said of what the injury taught him. “All of my teammates — that’s how I got through it so easily. Even some kids and coaches from other teams lent their support. I got letters from [people] telling me to get better. It’s nice to know where I come from.”
A four-year starter, Hooker enters Friday’s semistate contest against Rensselaer with 7,645 career passing yards, which ranks him 22nd all-time in state history. Last week’s 191-yard performance helped him move past Rex Grossman (Bloomington South, 1995-98) on the all-time list. Grossman led the Chicago Bears to an appearance in Super Bowl XLI.
“You just said Rex Grossman?” Hooker asked. “That makes me laugh. That’s kinda funny. It’s awesome to be mentioned up there, but obviously the most important thing right now for us is the number in the win column. I’m thankful for all of my teammates, because they’re the ones who have helped the most in me getting there.”