What Opposing SEC Coaches Are Saying About Hendon Hooker

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    Despite a 31-touchdown, three-interception output from Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker in his debut season in Knoxville last year, opposing SEC coaches aren’t jumping out of the gates to crown him as one of the most talented quarterbacks in the league. Instead, they’re complimenting the offense that Josh Heupel and his offensive staff, led by Alex Golesh, have assembled.

    After a three-year career at Virginia Tech, Hooker was one of the new faces in Knoxville in 2021 along with the entire Tennessee coaching staff. The Greensboro, North Carolina wasn’t even Tennessee’s starter off the bat, yet still managed to end the season as the SEC’s top quarterback in quarterback rating (QBR). Hooker ended the season with 2,945 passing yards and a 182.0 rating.

    It’s not as though Hooker hasn’t received praise this off-season. The second-year Tennessee quarterback has been named a 2022 Preseason All-SEC Second Team selection from the media, Athlon, and Phil Steele. Additionally, Hooker has been selected to the Maxwell Award Preseason Watch List and the Davey O’Brien Preseason Watch List.

    However, despite those acknowledgments and recognitions, some of the coaches in the SEC are still hesitant on deciding where to give the credit.

    In a section from ESPN’s College Football Quarterback Confidential released over the weekend, one SEC coach and one SEC assistant coach both anonymously spoke about Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker.

    “He wasn’t very good at Virginia Tech, and yet he’s really good [at Tennessee],” an SEC coach said about Hooker via ESPN/Adam Rittenberg. “So it makes you wonder if it is a system thing.”

    Hooker averaged 1,447 passing yards, 11 passing touchdowns, and three interceptions during his two playing years at Virginia Tech.

    There’s no question that Heupel does have an effective offensive system and that Hendon Hooker was able to benefit from it during the system’s first year in the SEC. However, at the same time, it’s hard not to also acknowledge the fact that Hooker’s efficiency was one of the most significant reasons for the offense’s success. Not to mention, Hooker was able to command and control one of the fastest offenses in the country in year one, which certainly wouldn’t be a guarantee from every collegiate quarterback.

    Both components – the system and the quarterback – were solid to good on their own. When combined, though, it resulted in a Top 10 offense across the nation.

    Still, though, the SEC coaches see other reasons for the success.

    “That offense is really creative and really simple, in a unique way,” one SEC coordinator said about Tennessee via ESPN/Adam Rittenberg. “It makes it very quarterback friendly. So [Hooker] gets the benefit of having a lot of catch-and-throws that go for a lot of yards.”

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    The 2022 Athlon Sports College Football Preview magazine, which was released in June, also had a section in which opposing coaches broke down Tennessee, but as a team as a whole. In the breakdown was a section that relates to what the two coaches said to ESPN earlier this week.

    “They’re pretty easy to break down because that offense is pretty easy to break down: You’re a six-win team if your quarterback is decent, and you’ve got a two- or three-game ceiling if he can make plays,” an SEC coach said about Tennessee’s offense via Athlon Sports College Football Preview magazine.

    When Josh Heupel was hired by Tennessee, the one thing that was known above all else was that he was going to bring a big-time offense to Knoxville. As the conductor of UCF’s potent offense and a former national championship-winning quarterback at Oklahoma, Heupel has the tools to effectively bring out the best in his players and his system.

    The first coach that was mentioned was curious as to the reason for Hooker’s success at Tennessee despite not being very good at Virginia Tech. Ironically enough, Tennessee quarterbacks coach Joey Halzle gave that exact answer during the first week of Tennessee training camp.

    According to Halzle, when Hooker first arrived to Tennessee, the business side of the game had completely taken over the fun aspect of the game. Hendon Hooker wasn’t enjoying the game, wasn’t enjoying his teammates, and wasn’t enjoying just being around the collegiate program. So for Halzle, once he realized that Hooker just needed to lighten up in order to take down some of those barriers, he saw nothing but a green light.

    “Starting to work with him when we first got here in February, March and then into spring ball, Hendon was a guy who was way too far in the business model, meaning that nothing was fun,” Halzle said earlier this month. “Everything was serious. That wasn’t his best way to play. For some guys it is. It is not for him. We had to spend a long time working on having him really just enjoy the game while working hard. Working hard doesn’t mean serious all of the time, though. He is fun. He is enjoying himself and enjoying his time out on the field. That is what has allowed his talent to now take over again. He’s not tightening himself up with his own mind.”

    Hendon Hooker spent the beginning of his career as a talented quarterback who may not have been in the right system and eventually became weighed down by the business aspects of the sport. However, a talented quarterback nonetheless.

    After being paired up in Josh Heupel’s offense and working on the mental approach to his game with Joey Halzle, Hooker started to become the quarterback the potential was always there for.

    Ric Butler is a Knoxville based sports media personality who has covered University of Tennessee athletics since 2017. Most recently, he served as the lead writer for the website of a local radio station. Ric also helped create and host a daily radio show called “The Blitz." Ric’s passion for sports, smooth vocal, and infectious personality have made him popular with both his peers and Vol Nation. Originally from Dallas, Ric didn’t grow up riding horses to school. But he did dream of the big city lights. When not chasing down the latest Tennessee story, Ric can be found watching the WWE, often attempting their moves in an embarrassing fashion.