TOUGH ENOUGH: Victoria's Hooper continues family football tradition

Lindsey Hooper doesn't mind being told she runs or throws like a girl.

"No, because I am a girl," Hooper said. "I'm going to run like a girl and throw like a girl. At the same time, I'm playing with a bunch of other girls."

Hopper has heard all the stereotypical comments directed toward females playing traditionally male sports. But the smart-aleck remarks usually stop when her stepmother, Rhonda, puts on a tape of an Austin Outlaws game.

"I think they say, 'Wow, those girls hit hard,'" Hooper said. "I've seen some pretty wicked hits."

Hooper, 25, has been responsible for many of those hits during her five years playing tackle football.

"The first question I get is are you a weightlifter or a body builder or do you play softball," Hooper said. "No, I don't really play softball. Well, what do you play. I play football. Oh, flag football. No professional women's full-contact football. And they're just like, "What?'"

Hooper's interest in the sport comes naturally. She comes from a football family.

Her father, Jon, played football and conducted conditioning camps for Victoria High players when Mark Reeve was the head coach.

Her older stepbrother, Jerheme Urban, is a wide receiver for the Kansas City Chiefs, and her younger stepbrother, Caleb Urban, plays football at Trinity University.

Hooper got her first taste of tackle football on the Crain seventh-grade B team.

She caught a 30-yard touchdown pass from good friend Devin Austin for the decisive score in a game against Howell.

"I've always been an athlete. I'm bigger than most girls," the 5-foot-10 Hooper said. "You have to learn how not to be scared. My first year it was really hard for me. It's not that I was scared of getting hurt. It's that I was afraid of messing up the play or not hitting right.

"My coach was like 'It doesn't matter just hit them.' As a girl, you want to do things perfectly the right way."

Hooper was a member of the dance and drill team in high school and was looking for a way to stay active when she moved to Austin to attend college.

Hooper decided to Google sports in Austin on her computer and found out about the Outlaws.

The team is in its 10th season in the Women's Football Alliance. The Outlaws play their home games at Westlake High School's Chaparral Stadium, drawing an average of 250 fans per game.

Hooper attended a tryout and as she put it: "I went out and five years later, here I am."

Hooper, who wears uniform No. 19 like she did at Crain, originally played defensive end before moving to tight end. She has been used at fullback some this season and has scored three touchdowns.

Hooper earned second-team all-American honors in the league last season and Outlaws head coach Narlen Baker put some plays, including a tight end around, into the playbook especially for her.

"The key thing you look for is dedication," Baker said. "Of course, it's great to have your prototypical athlete, who has a history in athletics.

"You're not going to find many women who have any knowledge of football. You basically start from scratch and try to get them to the high school level in 3 to 4 months."

Hooper's learning curve was a short one.

"Lindsey was exactly what we're looking for," Baker said. "She's strong, has a a good attitude, and is dedicated to the team."

Hooper has continued to play for the Outlaws despite moving back to Victoria and working full time.

She often gets up at 5 a.m. on Saturday and drives to Austin for practice and drives back home.

"You've got your team," Hooper said. "They're not my best friends. I wouldn't call them to go out on the weekend. But if I need anything, they'd be there. They're like my family. We respect each other, we help each other."

The Outlaws will take a 5-4 record into Saturday night's final regular-season game against the Fort Worth Lonestar Mustangs in Austin.

A win would send the Outlaws into the playoffs as the Southwest Division wild card team, and they would have to travel to Memphis for their playoff game.

"That's what you get out of women's football," said Hooper, who has been selling T-shirts to help finance the possible trip. "We don't do it for the money. We do it for fun. We don't do it to prove a point. We're just out there trying to make a name for it."

Hooper and her teammates don't get paid a penny for playing football. But the opportunity to play the game is worth millions.

"These girls are indescribable," Hooper said. "They're unbelievable athletes. They have kids, work, some work two jobs. They go out there and practice and they're good at it and they do their best."

Mike Forman is a sports writer for the Victoria Advocate. Contact him at 361-580-6588 or mforman@vicad.com, or comment on this column at www.VictoriaAdvocate.com.