WILLIAMSBURG — Placekicker can be one of the more underappreciated positions on a football team.
Kris Hooper hopes to help change that in his final season at William & Mary.
“Something I’ve really learned and that I’ve been growing in the last few years is just being comfortable with myself,” Hooper said earlier this week during the Tribe’s annual media day at Zable Stadium. “I can’t let opinions of others dictate how I feel about myself. It’s an up and down kind of thing. [Fans either] love you or the hate you, there’s no real in between. Luckily, I’ve had some really great teammates that always keep me up.”
Hooper’s journey to Williamsburg wasn’t easy.
After a standout high school career at Orange County, he struggled to find Division I offers. But despite the lack of early interest, Hooper had a great support system to keep his dream alive.
“I give a lot to credit to my dad and my high school coach, Keita Malloy,” he said. “Both of them played an integral part in me getting to William & Mary in the first place. My dad was the one that found the workout at William & Mary, which kind of got me going in the first place.”
The persistence paid off for Hooper, a redshirt senior who is entering his fifth season with the program. After redshirting in 2015, Hooper has been the Tribe’s placekicker for the past three seasons, including the past two as primary starter. For his career, he’s made 20 of 36 field goals.
As a freshman, Hooper appeared in nine games and connected on 5 of 8 field goal attempts, including a career-long 42-yarder to help beat Delaware, and 17 of 19 extra points.
The next year, he made nine field goals and led the team in scoring with 43 points. One of the highlights of his sophomore season was kicking a 41-yard field goal in the season opener against Virginia in front of friends and family.
“It’s always fun going down to Charlottesville,” Hooper said. “You know you’re going to have a lot of family and friends out there supporting you, so to go out there in the rain and sink that field goal to start the season off was big. As a kicker, it’s always great to start the season off 1-for-1 and from there you can just build.”
The momentum took another turn last fall for Hooper, who struggled with confidence and consistency during his junior season. He made just 6 of 12 field goal attempts and 12 of 14 extra point opportunities.
“It has not always been an easy journey,” Hooper said. “It’s kind of like life in general. There’s always going to be ups and downs. I personally will be the first to tell you that my last couple seasons here have not been up to the standards that I believe I should be at. I’ve always kept battling. I’ve never considered taking a step back, I’ve always been a move forward kind of guy and what do I have to do to be better, so I’ve always kept pushing. That’s kind of how I am as a person, with school, or life in general.”
Hooper, who is minoring in psychology at William & Mary, utilizes his study to help get him through some difficult times.
“It was really cool to learn some psychology,” Hooper said. “I learned just how powerful the mind is and it’s very important where your head is at all times. Just meditation and things like that, taking 10 minutes out of your day to just clear your thoughts and that’s really important.”
Like most kickers, Hooper said the key to a successful kick is all about rhythm.
“I go out there, my steps have to be the same, because that’s important. I do have a little tweak here and there, a little feel thing. Every kicker has their own personal thing that they do that makes them feel comfortable and set. That’s kind of my thing.”
The former Orange County standout said kicking is truly a mental exercise.
“I feel like I have all the physical components that I need, but really when it comes down to it, where am I at mentally, and I think a lot of guys can say the same thing,” Hooper said. “You’ve got to be a lot like a DB — a next-play [mentality], short-term mentality and just forgetting about that last kick, whether it’s a make or a miss. If it’s a make, build off it. If it’s a miss, make the correction and forget about because if you’re thinking about the last kick when you’re out there for the next kick, then you’re already wrong.”
After a subpar season by his standards, Hooper said he spent the offseason trying to fine-tune his technique.
“For me, it’s how can I be smoother and make my kick look more effortless,” he said. “I sometimes tend to over kick a little bit because I expect the perfect ball every time, and in turn that doesn’t always lead to the best outcome. I just tried to work on the little things, be smoother and how can I improve my technique and really leaving no stones unturned.”
The early results have been promising.
Josh Zidenberg, W&M’s new special teams coordinator has been pleased with the adjustments Hooper has made.
“He’s done a really good job of owning the fact that he didn’t perform up to the standard that he has for himself going into last season,” Zidenberg said. “I wasn’t here, so I’m not sure what all went on, but since Day 1 since I’ve been here, he’s been very positive — I want to get better, and works hard in everything he does and it’s showing. He continues to develop and try and fine-tune and figure out, he went places this summer. He’s got plenty of leg talent. There’s a lot of a mental aspect that you think about and wonder with specialist a lot that sometimes could be the difference in a great season and a bad season that has nothing to do with their ability from a physical standpoint.”
In the classroom, Hooper’s work has been off the charts. He’s garnered the W&M Provost Award, which recognizes athletes that achieve a 3.5-grade point average or better, three times. In addition, he’s earned the Colonial Athletic Association Commissioner Academic Honor Roll distinction all four years.
“The Provost Award is definitely one that means a lot to me each year,” Hooper said. “Dean’s List and Provost are two designations that once I earned them, they became the expectation or standard that I expect for myself each year. Both awards kind of remind me that my work outside of football in the classroom is worth it as well.”
Hooper is excited about his final season at W&M, including the Sept. 6 game at Scott Stadium against Virginia.
“UVa will be awesome,” Hooper said. “We’ve got a lot of connections to UVa, just amongst our team. To go back and play in front of family and friends, it’s a great opportunity for them to make it to that game. It’s going to be really cool, just with Coach [Mike] London, Coach Ras-I [Dowling] and half the staff, it’s going to be really cool for us. I’m excited for that.”