Hoskins' return bolsters North County

October 12, 1992|By Roch Eric Kubatko | Roch Eric Kubatko,Staff Writer

North County's Mike Hoskins is easy to find among the sea of red jerseys at soccer practice. He's the one bending over to adjust the 5-pound brace that hugs his right knee.

After completing a four-on-none break by tapping the ball into an empty net, Hoskins veers to his left, stops and begins tugging on a Velcro-like strap. The act would be repeated, over and over again.

"I get scared," said North County coach Steve Malone, watching as Hoskins rejoins his group for another drill.

"I don't know how heavy that thing is, but it's got to have some kind of effect, lugging that thing around with everything you do. And your balance; he's carrying more weight on one side than the other."

He also has been one of the players carrying North County to six victories and a No. 9 ranking in the metro area.

The 5-foot-8, 128-pound forward, still known for his quickness, has seven goals and three assists. His two goals Friday led the Knights past Old Mill, 3-2, in overtime, and further established the Knights as viable state playoff contenders. He added two more goals in a 4-1 win over Meade on Tuesday.

After participating on the varsity level for three years -- the first two at Brooklyn Park, before the school merged with Andover to form North County -- Hoskins sat out last season. His team struggled to six victories and missed the playoffs, after making the regional finals the previous year.

Here's where things get interesting. And somewhat confusing.

Most local soccer enthusiasts figured that Hoskins was unavailable because of his knee, which sustained cartilage and ligament damage during an indoor game in March 1991. He underwent 5 1/2 hours of surgery, and has donned the brace when playing since.

But Hoskins' real problem was in the classroom. As a junior, he wasn't allowed to play during a 15-day probationary period because his GPA sank below the county's academic requirement of 1.67, and he later would fall three credits shy of graduating. But he maintained another year of athletic eligibility by not playing last season.

No one debated what was best for Hoskins at that point in his life. The knee, and the grades, had to mend.

"It was very tough, just watching them play last year," Hoskins, 18, said. "I wanted to go out there so bad, and I just couldn't do it.

"My grades dropped real far after I first got hurt because I missed a lot of school after I got operated on. I wasn't doing very good in school and didn't care about it."

That soon would change. With the help of his girlfriend, Liz Elza, the school's senior class president last year, Hoskins made a turnaround. He qualified for the honor roll in three marking periods last year, and Hoskins said his GPA has risen to around 3.5.

"I saw him the day the grades came out," Malone said, "and he had a smile on his face like he had scored four goals."

His father, Steve Hoskins, said, "He was really down when he hurt his leg. Now, his grades are up and he's playing like he used to."

And that's the second part of this apparent happy ending. Hoskins said he doesn't worry about the knee any longer, and the skills that once made him an All-State selection "are coming back."

"I've matured a lot, how I dealt with the injury and how I came back to school and did real well," he said.

With a healthy Hoskins teaming with fellow captains Shawn Moyer and John Cosentino, the Knights are explosive.

"He gives us a different dimension," Malone said of Hoskins. "He's been the guy who has taken pressure off Shawn. Last year, two and three guys were on Shawn, but they can't do that with Mike around."

Any questions about whether the knee could withstand punishment were answered recently in a 5-4 overtime loss at Severna Park. After being hit from behind, Hoskins discovered that the brace had bent enough that some rivets dropped out. But he continued playing, without incident, even though the twisted metal restricted his mobility.

"I'm sure [the knee's] pretty strong because he doesn't favor it," Malone said, "but I see some of the hits he takes. I cringe at times, hoping that he's going to bounce back."

It looks as if Mike Hoskins has, indeed, bounced back. Both on and off the field.

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