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Why Malik Hooker didn't want to let Ohio State down in his final game

The diagnosis was a torn labrum in his left hip and a sports hernia on both sides.

Ohio State safety Malik Hooker could hardly believe what the doctors were telling him after his team's dramatic overtime win against arch rival Michigan in the regular-season finale.

"I wasn't scared. My thought was, 'Wow, I didn't think it was that bad,'" Hooker said Sunday at the NFL's annual scouting combine. "When you hear of a tear, like an ACL tear, something like that, guys can't tend to run. My first thought was, 'It's that bad?' I was out there all day running around and playing like that."

Hooker, who's considered one of top players in this year's draft class, had surgery in January to repair the damage and wasn't able to partake in Monday's on-field defensive backs drills. But the first-year starter met with a bevy of teams as he makes his case as to be a top-10 pick this April.

"I would say I feel like I'm a special player capable of doing a lot of things. I had a great coaching staff as well behind me to get me to be the player that I am," he said.

"I was playing with a lot of special players as well, and I feel like every day I went to practice I was competing against the best of the best. I give a lot of credit to the scout team players and also a lot of the starters on the offense, because without them, I wouldn't get half the looks that I had throughout the year."

Hooker led a dominant Buckeyes secondary with seven interceptions, including an especially impressive one against Clemson quarterback and top prospect Deshaun Watson in this past December's College Football Playoff semifinal.

It's the kind of play that might underscore Hooker's unusual range and ball skills.

He also did it while playing hurt.

But Hooker said missing the game was "never a thought" he entertained. "I put too much work in with those guys, and it would've been like I was letting them down, you know," said Hooker, who was then unsure of his future plans. "We went through the offseason, the grind, I feel like everything that I worked for in the offseason and that we worked for as a team, that would've been thrown away if I didn't go out there and compete with those guys."

Hooker, with the OK from the team's medical and training staffs, was cleared to play. He laughed as he recalled taking "about six Ibuprofen" to ease the pain. "I just got it real loose, got it as loose as I can," he said, "and tried to mentally block that out of my mind."

The Buckeyes were ultimately trounced, 31-0, by the Tigers. And Hooker, who played at "about 75 percent" and opted for surgery to expedite the healing process, said his recovery is ahead of schedule.

The kid from New Castle, Pennsylvania, who wanted to transfer his freshman year because of homesickness, says he hopes to be ready in time for rookie minicamp. And he has no regrets about suiting up one last time for Ohio State.

"Before even looking into my future, there's just so much that you put into a program like that," he said.

"So for me to automatically say I'm not playing because I'm a top 10 pick or whatever the scenario may be, I feel like it's not fair to Ohio State and the guys I worked with because I was there in the offseason working hard with them, I was there in the rough part of the program, so I feel like it was what I had to do."

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