ORLANDO, Fla. – There's an old adage that states hard work beats talent when talent fails to work hard. Falcons tight end Austin Hooper doesn't have to worry about that; he's got plenty of talent and a work ethic to match.
Each offseason since he entered the NFL as the Falcons' third-round draft pick in 2016, Hooper has made it a priority to seek out quarterback Matt Ryan for extra practice work. These private sessions have helped Hooper develop a better rapport with his quarterback, and they helped him earn his first Pro Bowl invitation for his performance in 2018.
That recognition is an accomplishment Hooper says has made his offseason sacrifices worth it.
"All of that hard work I've put in has finally paid off," Hooper said. "It confirms that all of those early mornings that I woke up to drive to wherever to meet Matt (Ryan) and sacrifice time with my family and friends – time where I technically don't have to do anything. For that to put me over the edge and allow me to be here just validates that everything I did was worthwhile."
Hooper has made progressives strides each season with the Falcons. In 2018 he set career-high marks with 71 receptions for 660 yards and four touchdowns, becoming a dependable option for Ryan in critical situations.
The hard work Hooper has put in has not gone unnoticed by his teammates. A number of Falcons players reached out to congratulate Hooper on his Pro Bowl selection, a gesture he greatly appreciated.
"We've got a really tight locker room, so darn near all of them hit me up in one way or another," Hooper said. "Over text, social media or whatever. It was good to get that support from the guys you grind with."
Not only does Hooper view his Pro Bowl nod as a validation of the sacrifices he's made in the past, but it also motivates him to continue his approach with the same vigor.
One of those guys Hooper grinds with during the season is by his side this week in Orlando. Falcons center Alex Mack was selected to the Pro Bowl for the sixth time in his career, providing an example of how sustained work and dedication can pay off.
It's a lesson Hooper now fully understands, seeing that same pay off for himself. Is it possible that at some point in the future Hooper will be making his sixth trip to the Pro Bowl?
"God willing, we'll see," he said. "Just got to put in the work."
TE Austin Hooper and C Alex Mack attend the first practice of the 2019 Pro Bowl. Mack is returning to the Pro Bowl for the sixth time, and it is Hooper's first Pro Bowl of his NFL career.