Down the Home Stretch

It was Halloween day, 1998. The Washington Huskies were in Los Angeles, facing the University of Southern California. It was an ugly game. A freshman named Carson Palmer looked like the next great USC quarterback as the Trojans had their way with the Huskies. It was a game that <a href=http://scout.theinsiders.com/a.z?s=147&p=8&c=1&nid=306171&yr=2002>Wilbur Hooks</a> will never forget.

The reason? In the middle of the contest, the Husky coaching staff contemplated putting the freshman Hooks, who had yet to appear in any of the seven games prior, into the game. The move would have signaled the end of a red-shirt season for the speedster from Alaska. Had that occurred, Wilbur would not be a Husky today.

As fate would have it, Hooks didn't enter the game. The Huskies lost that day 33-10 and the freshman kept his eligibility intact.

The next season, Head Coach Jim Lambright and most of his coaching staff were fired and replaced with Rick Neuheisel and a cast of new assistants.

The years that have followed have been some of the best of Hooks' life.

"I tell all of the younger guys who come in that I've been here since the purple helmets," said Hooks, unable to hold in a laugh as he holds his golden helmet by his side.

"It's been a good ride and a lot of fun."

The ride, however, hasn't come without considerable adversity standing in his way. In his four seasons leading up to 2002, Hooks has had to overcome one injury after another. For the most part, it's been the same two injuries, those being a nagging left hamstring and a dislocated shoulder.

The most serious of all, though, was a heart palpitation condition that he faced midway through his Husky career that once was thought to be career threatening.

Hooks overcame all the hurdles in his path to find himself back out on the field as a key reserve receiver last Saturday in Michigan Stadium.

It's just the latest big game for Hooks in a career that has witnessed countless others.

"That's been one thing that I feel like I've been blessed to be able to say," said Hooks. "I've been able to play at the Miamis, the Colorados, and now I (got) to play at a stadium that has 100,000 plus just like the Rose Bowl."

This year the depth at receiver is deeper than at any other time since Hooks has been at Montlake. The emergence of Charles Frederick, addition of tall junior college receiver Eddie Jackson, and return of Pat Reddick for a sixth season have deepened the corps that already was to return Reggie Williams, Paul Arnold, Justin Robbins, and Hooks. As one of the three senior receivers, Hooks is well aware of his duty to become more of a leader in his final season.

"The young guys come to me and Pat Reddick and me for stuff, and that feels good because if we don't know the offense after these four or five years than we shouldn't be here," said Hooks. "They feel confident in us, and I'm glad our coaches do, too. It feels good to go ahead and talk to the younger players and tell them that we are a team and we're going to get through this season together."

When Hooks looks at the upcoming season, he feels that this group of receivers has a chance to reach elite status. He says he approached this year differently because of an increased sense of urgency with it being his final year, so he pushed himself harder than ever before to prepare. He stayed in Seattle for the summer along with the rest of the receivers, working with quarterback Cody Pickett trying to improve on every facet of the passing game.

"It was great," Hooks said of the summer. "We really saw how the work ethic was very high even with a young team."

With a degree in Geographical Information Systems already to his name, Hooks can't help but look to the future with wonder. He'd like to continue playing football as long as his abilities allow him to go, but understands that there is no telling how long that will last. This summer he had an internship with the City of Bellevue working in the planning and community development department. He knows that he can always fall back on that if his future in football isn't long-term.

"I worked there during the summer and they do want me back," Hooks said. "They've already taught me everything so they don't want to hire anybody in and teach them all over again. They understand that football is my number one priority with it being my last year and they said they'll be glad to have me back because they've got plenty of work for me to do."

For now Hooks' focus remains on playing on Saturdays in front of his family, who fly to every home and away game all the way from Anchorage, Alaska.

"They have MVP frequent flyer miles on Alaska Airlines," Hooks said, grinning from ear to ear.

Four years and five seasons into his Husky career, it's been a long ride for Wilbur Hooks. He feels like the grandfather of the team, and couldn't be more thankful for the experiences he's had, the people he's met, and the lessons he's learned.

And when it all comes down to it, the fifth-year senior can't help but also feel quite grateful that the coaching staff kept him on the bench back on that Halloween day back in 1998, giving him the opportunity to still be a Husky today.

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