"Last year we did get kind of beat up," said Hooks. "We had some guys with experience there but we lost guys like Brian [Kehl] and Kelly [Poppinga], and it's just hard to replace guys like them. I don't want to say it was a confidence thing last year, but I do think it was more from a lack of starting experience. It also didn't help with Grant [Nelson] and Vic [So'oto] and myself going down last year either. I think that definitely hurt us a little more than most think. Right now, we have a lot of linebackers in the program right now and they'll really help us out a lot."
According to Hooks, the linebackers will seek to instill confidence in the rest of the defense and lead by both example and by vocal means.
"The talent that we have right now has the ability to be physical, and I think we had a lack of that last year," Hooks said. "We are going to come out here and be physical and feel it will carry over to other parts of the defense: [it will carry over to] the defensive line and will filter back to the secondary. We feel as a linebacking corps that we can definitely set the tempo and be fast and be physical. We just want to come out here and lead by example and lead vocally and play with confidence and let that spread throughout the team."
One obvious luxury the linebackers have more of this year is experience, but Hooks said that the group's collective efforts with film study and the acquisition of overall knowledge of the defense has revealed to him just how much of a difference they will make on the football field.
"There is a lot more experience as far as guys knowing the defensive playbook goes," said Hooks. "I can tell you right now, over this past winter we had guys watching film, guys dissecting our base defense more and just going over things to get a better understanding of where everyone is supposed to be. We've got guys who have put in a lot of time understanding what calls allow you to stay in the box in comparison to coming out of the box, or calls that make you stay on a receiver as to coming off a receiver. It just deals with us becoming better masters of our position. Guys [are] knowing their positions better, whether they're experienced or not, and knowing how to use the position to their advantage. I think it's a great thing with all of this experience we have because we're able to pick things up quicker. With all of this comes camaraderie.
"We've got guys putting in a lot of time studying together and with that comes guys being on the same page together on the field. With that, we'll also have guys knowing how to play their assignment better because he knows how his teammate is going to play his assignment. With that comes guys knowing how to assist each other, and it's going to get to the point where guys are going to be on the same page and it's going to be unstoppable. We feel like once we are at that stage playing with confidence and playing with physicality, it's going to be sky-high for this group. We're going to be playing with a mean swagger and that was something that me missed last year."
Before spring practice even began, the linebackers created a culture of competition among themselves.
"This past offseason workout really showed the mentality that we have going into spring camp," said Hooks. "We had guys going all out and competing in the weight room. It wasn't like, ‘Okay, I failed to lift that,' and move on. No, it was more like, ‘Okay, I failed that but I'm not going to let that stop me.' We had guys competing not to come in second. We had guys competing to improve, and with that I think a lot of confidence came along with it. We had guys improving a lot on their strength from the offseason workout that we had prior to spring camp. We had guys pushing one another to get better, and with that you saw guys building character and leadership. You saw guys showing leadership by winning everything and putting up every weight that he can, and with that came leading by example. I think a lot of confidence came from that as well and I think that will be carried over onto the field. A lot of this attitude that we have has come from our hard work and performance during the winter workouts."
Energized with a new mental disposition, the linebackers want to bring a "mean attitude" to BYU's defense. The group has talked about what kind of a statement they want to make on the field.
"The mean attitude is what we have to bring this year and I think that is something you're going to see," Hooks said. "I mean, we've got big guys like J.P. [Jordan Pendleton] on the outside now and everybody is excited about that. He's a big dude and everybody is excited to see him throw on the pads. Then we've got Vic [So'oto] out there and he tore it up in the offseason, so we've got a lot guys that everyone is anticipating will come out and do some great things for this defense this year. Honestly, I would be very disappointed if this wasn't one of the more physical defenses that you have seen in awhile."
A season that ended with a defensive performance lacking in both expectations and results has spurned the core renovation by the Cougar defenders. No longer can they rest their team's results on the shoulders of someone else. They understand it's now their time to shine.
"I think a lot of us have a sour taste in our mouths by what happened from last year," said Hooks. "I think we were spoiled, I know myself included. I mean, I came in here when John Beck was the quarterback and he was the man. We were all just used to having these leaders always in front of us doing their thing and carrying the entire team on their back. I think a lot of us got complacent with the success we had and with the leadership that were on the team. I think we got complacent thinking it would just naturally just carry over, and now when these leaders left it became time for us to pick up the slack, and that's what we're going to do this year. The struggles that we went through last year helped us to go through a lot, and Coach [Mendenhall] has put it on us to hold ourselves accountable. I think once we had that as our mindset we came out here to give it our all to compete to win. If you aren't winning, then you're going to push the dude that is to let him know you're coming. If I'm running with Matt Bauman and he has a step on me, he better know that he needs to take an extra step because I'm coming, and vice versa. That's the mentality that we have and that's the mentality that the younger guys have because it's being drilled into their heads."
Holding back is not going to be a part of Hooks' playing repertoire. For this senior linebacker, leaving his all on the field by the time he has made his last tackle is his continual focus.
"For this last year that I have I want to give it my all," said Hooks. "For the past two years I haven't been able to do that and contribute to the team, but it's good to be in there with great guys like Matt [Ah You], Jan [Jorgensen] and Scott [Johnson], who knows everything. It's just a great feeling because when you get tired you get a little extra push from guys like them and knowing it's your last year. I want to come out here and be relaxed and confident and let the game flow. I want to come out here and have fun, but I also want to come out here knowing I gave it my all and held nothing back."