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Hendon Hooker’s Decision To Return Brings Stability To The Tennessee Offense

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Stability at the quarterback position at Tennessee has been a problem for the football program since Josh Dobbs graduated. Seriously, there hasn’t been a situation where fans or even coaches have felt comfortable about the spot heading into an off-season.

Until this year. Hendon Hooker deciding to return for the 2022 season gives the staff one less thing to worry about, and it also gives this team stability heading into next season.

When he made his way onto the field against Pittsburgh to relieve Joe Milton, many — including the coaches — didn’t know what to expect. Hooker had played well in fall camp, but this staff wasn’t able to see the side of the transfer quarterback that makes him special. When you aren’t in “live” action during camp, it’s hard for a quarterback like Hooker to show off his ability to make plays with his feet. But, after setting records and being a consistent leader for this group, he’s found his place behind center in Knoxville.

There were options for Hooker to take a chance and enter the NFL Draft. He’d shown his ability during the season, but there was still more he could do to improve his draft prospects.

So, when he finally made up his mind to return, he told Josh Heupel in the most casual way possible. As Heupel and Hooker were walking off the field after a practice, the Tennessee head coach asked him what he was going to do this December. Hooker was as nonchalant as he could be with his answer.

“It was very casual,” Hooker said. “We were just kind of walking off the field and he was like, ‘What you gonna do?’ I said, ‘I’m going to come back next year.’ And he was like, ‘Oh, okay. Yeah, I’m excited. Let’s go to Atlanta.’ And I was like, ‘Yes, sir, let’s make it happen.’”

Josh Heupel has so much confidence in his quarterback that Hooker now runs the show, even though he took over the offense slowly.

“I am happy with the decision and I am excited to come back next year and get it going again.”

Tennessee offensive coordinator Alex Golesh knows how important it is to have the constant presence of a leader in the room. He’s talked about how good this offense can be in Year Two under Heupel, as the players will be able to play more freely, especially understanding the scheme. But, the transition into 2022 wouldn’t be as smooth if it weren’t for Hendon Hooker leading the offense. So, when Golesh found out about the quarterback returning for another season, he found it hard not to be overly excited.

“Yea, that was an awesome two-week conversation and in a lot of ways an early Christmas present for all of us to get a veteran guy to come back. I think if anything, it’s gratifying that he wants to be here, gratifying that he wants to lead the offense. I am so proud of what he’s done and just the next step he could take.

“Playing quarterback is all about decision making, timing, ball placement,” Golesh added. “And with Hendon, the element that he can do with his legs, we have to continue to grow. We didn’t come into the season expecting that to be what we were doing. Obviously it’s been an added bonus and he’s got us out of a lot of things.”

The Vols now have an opportunity to build upon the 2021 season with a quarterback they can trust to call the plays on the field. Most importantly though, the coaching staff has a leader behind center who can also be a mentor to the younger players. The offense can continue to be explosive, but it will also take Hooker’s ability to coach up the younger players who line up next to him. After hearing him on Tuesday, it sounds as if he’s up to the task.

“I am really excited, like I said before, just ready to lead and ready to be a good example for these young guys coming in. Just showing them the ropes and building a new culture here at Tennessee.”

 

Written by Trey Wallace

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