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No Longer in His Brothers’ Shadows : Hooper Gets Due at SDSU

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Times Staff Writer

No matter what San Diego State’s Mike Hooper accomplished as a child, he often found it wasn’t good enough.

If Hooper did well in Little League, he would hear he wasn’t as good as his brother Chip. If he did well in Pop Warner, he would hear he didn’t measure up to his brother Greg.

“Being the baby brother, Michael fell victim to circumstances,” said his father, Dr. Lawrence Hooper. “Michael had it rough, no question about it. I’m glad he came through it unscathed, so to speak. He was always compared to everyone.”

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When Hooper plays defensive end for SDSU these days, he isn’t compared with either brother because Chip is on the men’s professional tennis tour. Greg, a former running back at Stanford, is one year short of graduating from medical school.

Coming to San Diego has enabled Hooper to escape those shadows and establish an identity of his own.

Hooper, a junior, has been a starter in the defensive line since late in his freshman year, and he is the second-leading tackler among linemen this year behind senior Levi Esene.

“Mike and Levi are by far our best defensive linemen,” said Dan Underwood, SDSU’s defensive line coach. “Mike has been dinged up a little bit in practice. When the lights come on, he has played extremely well in ballgames.”

This is a young man who has always been athletically inclined. As a child, he played football, baseball, tennis and soccer, and skied in his spare time.

According to Lawrence Hooper, the older brothers always took an interest in Mike. Greg would help him with football and Chip encouraged him in baseball and tennis. No pressure came from within the family.

“The pressure was put on me from outside the family,” Mike said. “People would make comparisons and say I didn’t live up to my brothers. Everyone got down on me but my parents. They always said everything was fine as long as I did the best I could do.”

Though the Hoopers live in Sunnyvale, a San Jose suburb, each of the three sons attended a different high school in the area. Mike attended St. Francis, a Catholic school in nearby Mountain View.

Lawrence Hooper said it was one of the best things that could have happened. Several of the nuns at St. Francis told Mike that it didn’t matter whether he measured up to his brothers. They told him to simply be Mike Hooper.

Ron Calcagno, St. Francis football coach, said Hooper was a chubby kid as a freshman. He said coaches always kidded Hooper that he had trouble pushing away from the table.

In Hooper’s early years at St. Francis, coaches questioned his desire to play football.

“As a staff, we noticed a big difference between his junior and senior years,” Calcagno said. “He made up his mind he wanted to be a good football player. He got himself in good shape.”

St. Francis was undefeated Hooper’s senior year, winning the Central Coast Section championship.

A running back his first three years, Hooper played tight end as a senior. He also played occasionally on the defensive line.

In retrospect, it was a significant switch. As a running back, Hooper was playing the same position his brother Greg had played.

“Going to defense was something no one else (in the family) had done,” Lawrence Hooper said. “There was no one to compare him with.”

The comparisons could have resurfaced after high school. Stanford’s coaches told Hooper that after one year of community college football they would offer him a scholarship.

“I wanted to go there,” Hooper said. “That’s another thing I thank my parents for. They told me I would never be myself if I went to Stanford. People would always say I should run or catch like Greg.”

And so he did what might have been deemed unlikely. He chose San Diego State over Stanford. At SDSU, he is simply Mike Hooper.

Hooper, a redshirt in 1983, became a starter by late 1984, his freshman year of eligibility. Last year, Hooper started nine games and was named second-team All-Western Athletic Conference. He led SDSU’s defensive linemen in tackles.

This season, Hooper has been SDSU’s most effective lineman in causing opposing quarterbacks to hurry passes, Underwood said. Yet Hooper said he doesn’t think he has played up to his potential yet.

“He hasn’t reached his complete potential,” Underwood said. “I don’t think he will do that until he is injury-free. He has to learn that you can’t be healthy 100% of the time. He has to learn to play with pain. I think he sees where he can get better.”

At least Hooper is being asked to measure up to his own potential, not someone else’s.

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