Amani Hooker, then a freshman at Park Center, heard the cheers for his older brother, Quinton, throughout a special basketball season.
Quinton, a standout senior guard in 2012-13, led the top-ranked Pirates to their first Class 4A state tournament championship game. He was later named Mr. Basketball and his jersey hangs in the school gym.
Once Quinton graduated, however, the exultation for his accomplishments became unwanted expectations for Amani. Observers questioned whether the younger brother could achieve a similar standard in football, his top sport.
Amani Hooker is leaving no doubt this fall. Whether as receiver, quarterback, safety or return man, Hooker has been electric. Park Center coach Paul Strong said Hooker, who committed to Iowa, belongs in the realm of the state’s top playmakers such as Eden Prairie’s JD Spielman.
Through the first six games of the season, Hooker scored 14 offensive touchdowns and added three more scores on defense.
“The way he’s worked the past couple years to get to this point is incredible,” said Quinton, a starting junior guard at North Dakota. “People would cheer when I played. But now I get to see him do that and more. It’s great because he’s had a tougher route.”
Quinton drove down for the DeLaSalle game in which Amani scored twice on offense and intercepted three passes, returning two of them for scores.
The sheer numbers impress. But like his older brother, Hooker has become something more.
When injuries sidelined starting quarterback Karl Altenburg, Hooker expanded his considerable skill set. He accounted for more than 300 yards and four touchdown passes, keeping the Pirates competitive in a loss to Robbinsdale Armstrong. He added four touchdown passes in a 41-0 victory against Benilde-St. Margaret’s.
“I try to bring things from the year my brother went to the state championship game,” Hooker said. “People doubted his team and he would bring guys up by being an example of how Park Center players do it. He took them far and that’s what I’m trying to do.”
When Hooker lines up at safety, a fierce look replaces his easy smile. The first Class of 2016 defensive back to commit to Iowa, Hooker arrives at the ball with a purpose. Before this season, he was best-known for delivering crunching tackles.
“My dad always stresses playing aggressive, whether it’s an exhibition game or a playoff game,” said Hooker, who measures 6-1 and 195 pounds.
The pride Hooker takes in all facets of his game has been infectious.
“In practice, he pushes everybody 110 percent,” said senior Ty’shonan Brooks, a receiver with eight touchdowns through the first six games. “He’s going to make you better by going against him. In a game, you can count on him for showing up to play.”
Park Center started the season 4-2 and players have designs on making a deep playoff run. If the Pirates succeed, outsiders will be surprised. Those inside Park Center’s program, however, will know better.
“He plays with a chip,” Strong said of Hooker. “He’s refused to let this program take a step back. Not while he’s here.”