Catching on

Ohio redshirt freshman wide receiver Shane Hooks, seen here earlier this season at Pittsburgh, is averaging 22.4 yards per catch this season and leads the Bobcats with two touchdown receptions.

It’s not exactly a ‘bad’ word for Shane Hooks, but it’s certainly one he’s beginning to tire of hearing.

Nearly from the moment the long, rangy, fluid wide receiver became intwined with the game of football, Hooks has labeled by coaches, teammates and evaluators.

Hooks, you see, has potential.

“I heard that pretty much my whole life growing up,” said Hooks, a 20-year old redshirt freshman wideout from Orlando, Fla. “When I first started hearing it, I liked it a lot.

“Now when I hear it, I like it. But I don’t want to just be that guy that has a whole bunch of potential,” he added. “It’s cool for them to say I have a lot of potential, but I want them to know I’m the real deal.”

One look at Hooks and you see immediately what everyone else does. He stands a legitimate 6-feet-4 inches, and is a well-muscled 205 pounds. His hands are the size of catcher’s mitts. His wingspan means he’s hasn’t needed a stepladder to reach anything around the house in years. His long-legged stride means he covers ground, and yards, in a deceptively fast manner.

Hooks is the kind of big, physically-imposing, and on-field dangerous wide receiver that Ohio hasn’t seen since Phil Bates switched to the position full-time in 2011.

“Shane is a talented, talented guy. You can’t teach his frame, his length,” said Ohio senior quarterback Nathan Rourke. “There’s a lot of things he can iron out and get better at.

“I think he can be a special player, with a career past Ohio.”

Despite his physical stature, Hooks was overlooked a bit at Olympia High School, in Florida. He finished his senior season with 24 catches for 515 yards and seven touchdowns.

With the early signing date approaching, Hooks had three real offers on the table: Ohio, UAB and Central Arkansas. He stuck with the Bobcats, and OU WR assistant Dwayne Dixon, who were on him early.

“They keep showing me love. Every day I was getting mail. They called me three times a week,” Hooks explained. “Coach Dixon came down and visited me a couple times. I heard from Coach Solich a lot.”

As signing day drew close, more schools saw a 6-4 receiver from the state of Florida and wanted in. Iowa State, Miami (Fla.), Louisville and Purdue all made late inquiries, but Hooks stayed with the Bobcats.

“I did feel overlooked,” Hooks said. “The early signing period, that’s when a lot of big schools came into the picture and wanted me to come out for official visits.”

Hooks stuck with the sure thing. And he started quickly at Ohio. Last year, as a true freshman, he logged reps in three games early in the season. He was targeted a handful of times, but didn’t have a reception.

An injury, and a decision, led him to appear in no more than four games in 2018. He kept his redshirt season intact. Physically, he was ready to play. But there was still so much about the game he didn’t know.

“I know going into the season the coaches didn’t want to redshirt me and I didn’t want to redshirt as well,” Hooks said. “Realizing the level of competition from high school to college, I looked at it and told them I wanted to redshirt after my fourth game. To better my game and to get bigger and stronger.”

Hooks honed in on the playbook. He took advantage of year-round training. He listened to Dixon, and the myriad of ways he challenged receivers with seemingly imperceptible details in every practice. He processed, and learned.

In fact, he’s still learning.

“I think what you saw is what Shane can supply you, but he’s got to do with consistency,” Ohio head coach Frank Solich said after Hooks caught his first career touchdown, and a key block on a 72-yard TD run from Rourke, at Marshall.

“It’s showing now that he has that kind of potential and just needs to display that play after play,” the coach continued. “I think…you’ll see him continue to take leaps and bounds in terms of showing his ability.”

Ah, that word again — potential. It still hangs around Hooks, but more and more the player he could be is shining through. There was the one-handed stab on a 50-50 ball down the sideline. There was the touchdown catch at Marshall, where he hung on despite a wicked hit in the ribs. There was another deep ball, and another touchdown catch against Louisiana two weeks ago.

Through four games, Hooks has been targeted 12 times in the Ohio passing game. He’s logged seven catches for 157 yards, or 22.4 yards per catch, and leads the team with two touchdown receptions. His five ‘chunk’ receptions — catches of 15 or more yards — leads the roster.

A year ago, Hooks was simply trying to out run and out jump every defensive back he came across. Now, he’s playing the position. His physical gifts remain, but he’s starting to add more technical expertise to the equation and the results are starting to show.

“I’m paying more attention to details than I did last year. Last year I was just trying to go off of raw talent,” Hooks said. “Now, this year I’m understanding the game better. Learning the plays and know what I got to do at the top of a route, finish blocks. Knowing the offense and defense.”

For Dixon, the 2019 season presents a unique challenge for him in his time at Ohio. He has three redshirt freshmen receivers — Hooks, Jerome Buckner and Ty Walton — who are all seeing playing time. He has to develop all three at the same time, and OU needs all three to contribute.

For Hooks, it’s the same drill. Dixon doesn’t care about potential during the season; he wants consistency.

“The only way we can do that is see how it’s supposed to be done, and continuously get reps at doing it the right way,” Dixon said. “You do it daily, really keep account on how they’re doing their job and really be a stickler on how to make those plays.”

The potential is not yet realized. But there have been flashes. Hooks believed in Dixon when he recruited him, and believes now more than ever he’s the coach who can help turn that potential into reality.

“I knew if I came here…I know what he’s teaching me is very important,” Hooks said. “I’m listening to him every day, and then he really loves his players.

“I like that.”

Rourke said it’s on him, and Ohio’s other leaders and coaches, to make sure the transition continues.

“We got to keep him coming along, keep him focused. Give him opportunities when needed. Keep asking for the best out of him. Keep challenging him every day to not just be okay at the ‘go’ ball but mastering everything,” the quarterback said.

“I’m excited to see where he goes.”

Email at jarkley@athensmessenger.com; follow on Twitter @JasonAmessenger

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