Wounded veteran finds new life coaching football

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SAN DIEGO — Josh Hooker paces up and down the sidelines during Francis Parker junior varsity games giving no sign that he nearly lost his life.

“I was with the 101st Airborne out of Baghdad, Iraq,” Hooker said. “Another soldier and I were struck by an IED. Immediately he was killed and the residual blast hit my lower extremities and took off my left foot.”

That explosion happened April 29, 2006. Hooker took more than a year to recover, and he chose to have his leg amputated. He now wears a prosthetic below the knee called a vertical shock piston.

“It allows me to do anything and everything that a normal person would do,” Hooker said.

Once he retired from the Army, Sgt. Hooker, went through the Warriors to Work program and found a job last season as a volunteer football coach with Francis Parker.

With his new job, he said he found a new life.

“I can also implement some of the skills I learned as a sergeant in the military,” Hooker said. “It’s not much different from coaching. So, I’m pretty much a drill sergeant coach, and it gives me an opportunity to lead troops into battle. I didn’t have much of that opportunity in the service.”

The 28-year-old former high school football player fit in so well, Parker head coach John Morrison hired him for this season.

“It’s really a lot less about him being an amputee and a lot more about what he brings to the program in terms of his leadership skills and serving as a mentor to the young men,” Morrison said. “Having him on JV, I think, is perfect because he’s really with the younger kids, the freshmen and sophomores. I think he could make a great impression on them.”

“It’s kind of inspiring because you see this guy who clearly started off just like the rest of us, a normal high-schooler who played football,” said sophomore Kevin Roden. “Then, when he went into the military, he was just serving his country and of course, what happened, happened.”

“This is an opportunity to give back to the kids,” Hooker said. “I can also implement some of my skills I learned in the military and I can bring those here to Francis Parker. Whether its hard work or integrity, all those things. Football is life. It was just a no-brainer for me.”

Hooker has not given up his own athletic career either. He now cycles with the Challenged Athletes Foundation ‘Operation Rebound.’

Hooker plans to compete in the Challenged Athlete Triathlon October 21, riding the cycling portion and he says whenever one of his players asks about how he became a Challenged athlete, he readily shares his story.

“A lot of these kids will go on to do military service,” Hooker said. “I feel there’s an obligation to answer every single question that’s asked and encourage these guys, if they want to join the service after they graduate here at Parker, that it’s completely fine with that and it’s something that would be really honorable.”

Honorable – a word that perfectly describes Josh Hooker.