Sept. 11, 2001
By Anne Miller
“Make sure you enjoy yourself. You always hear people say that and you don’t think about it at the time, but I let the student-athletes know there will come a time when they will look back on these days and it is up to them to remember these days with fondness. So I tell them to make sure that you do your best and have a good time. You want to learn something and definitely take something away, but have a good time.” – Ricardo Hooper
Perhaps the above quote from Ricardo Hooper is not what you would expect from your average academic counselor. But then again, Ricardo Hooper can hardly be described as average, and to describe him merely as an academic counselor would be inadequate.
Hooper began his career in academics and athletics at Clemson in 1984 as a walkon on former head coach Danny Ford’s football team. He was awarded the Carlon Box Offense Honor given to the top walkon in the1985 spring drills. Hooper battled through two knee surgeries to start nine of 12 games in his final season, including starting at wide receiver for the Tigers in the 1988 Citrus Bowl. He excelled on the gridiron, completing his career with 40 receptions for 566 yards and three touchdowns.
Hooper also completed the goal he had set for himself when he walked on Clemson’s campus. He finished his undergraduate degree in political science in four years and then returned to play his final season as a graduate student. At the end of his eligibility, Hooper stayed on as a graduate assistant coach for the 1990 season, and received his master’s degree in urban planning in 1990.
When asked how big an impact Coach Ford and his expectations had upon his athletic and academic goals, Hooper was quick to give his former coach credit. “Coach Ford had a major impact. At the time I didn’t really think so. I guess it’s like being reared by your parents. If they are doing it right, you don’t really like them all the time. “But, later as I had an understanding of why he was doing things like he did, it came to me that a lot of it made sense the way we did things, the kind of attitude that he instilled we worked hard. We were living proof that with hard work you could succeed. That’s not to say we didn’t have talent, we had quite a bit, but we still worked harder than anybody else and that helped us be successful.” Hooper played on three Clemson teams that ranked in the final top 20 and won bowl games over Stanford, Penn State and Oklahoma.
Hard work is something that Hooper continues to emphasize. He encourages the student-athletes he works with to enjoy their experience, but also encourages them to put forth as much effort as possible. “I tell them to focus and to understand that there are only 24 hours in a day. There are certain things that they have to do and there are certain things they like to do. They need to distinguish between the two. There are needs that they have to address. Things have a way of working out. If it’s meant to happen, with hard work, it usually does happen.”
It is also obvious that Hooper practiced what he preaches. Former Clemson football coach Danny Ford said, “He was a young person that came to Clemson probably because of academics more than football as he was a walk-on football player who earned a scholarship and turned out to be a very good football player for us. He also certainly got a quality education while he was here.
“To us, he was a guy who was an overachiever that came in when no one knew very much about him. He walked on and established a name for himself, got a quality education, and has done tremendously well. He is a very hard-nosed individual who knows what he wants out of life and works toward it. He is a goal-setting type person. Just the type of person you like to be around.”
After leaving Clemson in 1991, Hooper was hired as an assistant football coach at Nicholls State University where he coached the wide receivers and special teams and it was at Nicholls State where Hooper got his introduction to academic counseling. However, it was not until 1993 that Hooper got involved with academics on a full-time basis when he accepted the position of academic counselor at Arkansas.
“The academic enrichment program at Arkansas had an opening and Danny Ford was there. It was an opportunity to go with someone that I knew at a major institution, so I just decided to take a chance with it,” said Hooper. He remained in that position until 1995, when he accepted the position of athletic facilities coordinator. After brief stints in the facilities and operations field at Arkansas and Cincinnati, Hooper found himself drawn back to the combination of academics and athletics when he returned to his hometown of Atlanta as a teacher and coach at South Atlanta High School. However, his time there would also prove to be short as he applied for and accepted the position of academic counselor at Clemson in 1999.
In 1999, Hooper returned to Clemson and brought with him the experiences of his previous positions in Louisiana, Arkansas, Ohio and Georgia. That diverse background has served Hooper well in his current position and has given him exposure to all types of situations. His experiences have enabled him to be more than just an individual that is concerned only with academics. “Having the experience in each place, I have tried to take a little away with dealing with people, motivating students, talking with students, dealing with coaches, trying to bundle all that up helps me to see it from their side, which is beneficial.”
His ability to relate to the coaches and athletes alike is obvious. Hooper has earned the respect of all those he comes in contact with from his former coach to the coaches and athletes with whom he works. Clemson head men’s basketball coach Larry Shyatt has the following to say about Hooper. “He embodies every characteristic one would look for, not only in a role model, but in an academic role model for young student-athletes. He is familiar with Clemson, he is familiar with intercollegiate athletics and he has a high level of balance anyone would want in the position that he serves. He is a credit to our staff.”
It is apparent that Hooper did indeed heed the advice that he gives to outgoing student-athletes. When asked what he tells student-athletes who are leaving Clemson, Hooper replied,” I tell them this. I hope you have enjoyed your time and that you gained something from it. Just keep the place in mind because once you graduate, it’s kind of like when you left home to come to college. There’s really no place like home and there’s really no place like Clemson.”
Anne Miller is in her second year as assistant sports information director at Clemson.
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