Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Meadowcreek graduate Lavon Hooks who currently plays defensive line for Northeast Mississippi Community College trains for the upcoming season with technique coach David Irons Sr. at Sweet Water Park in Lawrenceville on June 14.
David Irons Sr. prides himself on spotting and developing football talent, and one of his most interesting finds of late happened away from the field.
Irons, walking into a movie at Discover Mills with his youngest son, saw Lavon Hooks in the mall and struck up a conversation.
"I saw this big kid walking out and I thought, 'He must play with the Falcons,'" said Irons, a local trainer whose sons and Dacula grads David and Kenny Irons played at Auburn and in the NFL. "I asked him about it and he said, 'Coach, I don't play football. I play basketball.'"
Hooks' mindset, and his basketball-sized frame, has changed greatly since that meeting.
Now the former Brookwood and Meadowcreek two-sport standout is a pure football player. At 6-foot-4, 290 pounds (he was 240 to 250 as a high school senior), Hooks is one of the nation's most highly recruited defensive linemen heading into his second football season at Northeast Mississippi Community College.
Ole Miss, Troy, Memphis, Iowa State, Texas Tech, Mississippi State and Louisiana-Lafayette are among the schools that have extended official offers. SEC powers Florida and LSU have shown great interest and may be offering soon.
None of this looked possible after Hooks left high school to play basketball for Marion Military Institute (Ala.).
"I almost fell out of love with football, but it came back to me right after my first semester of basketball at Marion," Hooks said. "I knew I wanted to come back to football and I got all the reassurance I needed from Coach Irons."
Hooks considered prep school for football after high school, but FCS schools didn't show this kind of interest until after his debut season at Northeast Mississippi. Irons said it helped that Hooks bulked up, but mainly that he added a more extensive highlight tape than what he had from high school.
Irons trained Hooks after the two first met and then helped get him to a top-notch JUCO program. Hooks didn't even have to fully give up basketball, either. He played basketball last season for Northeast Mississippi and led the conference in rebounding.
"I've seen a whole bunch of football and he reminds me of Leon Lett," Irons said. "Leon Lett was a basketball player first and then he became a superstar with the Cowboys. He just had that natural athletic ability. ... He never missed a workout all summer when he was with us. The next thing you know, we had ourselves a monster. The kid has a tremendous upside."
Hooks is back in Gwinnett this summer, training with Irons until Sunday. He's working on a number of things, but one of the biggest is learning how to carry his 290 pounds that he said "is a load."
He's on track to graduate in December, which means he can enroll with a four-year college in January. He is hopeful of committing before the JUCO season, but doesn't mind waiting until mid-October or early November.
He knows his college basketball days are likely over, but he doesn't mind.
"I'm a football player now," Hooks said. "I'm more aggressive out there now. I'm a little more relentless than I was."