ORONO, Maine — At least three times in his life, Joe Hook has been at a football and personal crossroads.
Most recently, the University of Maine provided him with the opportunity to follow the right path. This fall, the senior lineman finds himself in a good place.
Saturday afternoon, that will be Morse Field at Alfond Stadium, where Hook and coach Jack Cosgrove’s eighth-ranked Black Bears play No. 15 New Hampshire in the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.
Hook, an offensive tackle from Westfield, Mass., has anchored an offensive line that has helped pave the way to a 10-2 season.
“Everybody’s excited for the game,” Hook said. “It’s the first home playoff game, (and) we’re playing New Hampshire.”
The 6-foot-5, 285-pound right tackle garnered All-Colonial Athletic Association second-team honors this season.
“He’s a guy who I look to for leadership,” said UMaine offensive line coach Jeff Ambrosie. “He’s a good example for the young kids.”
That wasn’t always the case.
Hook struggled with the transition to college. He sometimes didn’t stay on top of his school work and had a reputation as being somewhat undependable.
Part of it was not his fault. Prior to his redshirt freshman season in the summer of 2011, Hook was experiencing bouts of depression.
He was diagnosed with a form of Seasonal Affective Disorder.
“I was having all kinds of issues,” Hook said. “I was going to a therapist a couple times a week and by the time the season was coming around, we kind of made the decision that it would be best if I got myself right before coming back.”
By the start of the second semester, he was ready to return to school.
“I kind of learned to work around it,” he said of the disorder, which has not affected him very often since.
Cosgrove and the staff welcomed Hook back. He returned with a renewed commitment to his teammates, his coaches and himself.
Hook buckled down academically and became a trusted and dependable player in all aspects.
“I have a special place for Joe because he’s done everything I’ve asked him to do,” said Ambrosie, who joined the staff in 2012. “He’s never been an issue.
“He’s bought in completely to what we’re trying to do and he’s reaped the benefits of that. He’s always had the talent, but he’s grown up. I’m very proud of him.”
Hook wasn’t recruited by UMaine until halfway through his senior year. He admitted his grades weren’t great and that he had been looking at prep schools instead of colleges.
During a physics midterm at Westfield High, Hook received a cell phone call.
“I went to the bathroom to listen to the message,” he said.
Later that day, former UMaine offensive line coach Frank Giufre made a recruiting stop to Hook’s home. The next weekend, Hook took an official visit to UMaine.
“It all happened so fast,” he said. “I fell in love not so much with the environment but the whole team atmosphere.”
Hook is appreciative for the support he has received from UMaine coaches, staff and teammates, but he might not have made it to Orono had it not been for two other people.
Hook praised the guidance of Westfield High football coach and history teacher Bill Moore and offensive line coach Bob Coe, who is a guidance counselor.
“I had kind of a troubled childhood and my parents split up,” Hook said of his freshman year. “I was kind of hanging out with the wrong crowd.”
Moore sent a clear message when he did not invite Hook to join the freshmen football players on the sideline for the Thanksgiving game because of poor grades.
“Looking back at it, that was kind of the turning point,” said Hook, who realized he did not want to miss out on football.
“He’s a big guy on character and being mentally tough,” said Hook, who attended Moore’s final game at Westfield on Thanksgiving day.
“I feel like the lessons that he taught us and tried to get across to us turned myself and my teammates into better men,” added Hook, who has made 33 career starts, helped the Bears rank second in CAA passing offense (254 yards per game), fifth in rushing (176 ypg), fifth in total offense (430 ypg) and fifth in scoring (30 ppg).
The child development and family relations major is focusing on football as his college career winds down. He hopes to continue playing after UMaine and envisions himself coaching.
“I want to coach and give back and pass on the lessons that I’ve learned over time,” he said.