The 2021 regular season has drawn to a close, and the Tennessee Volunteers now wait for their bowl destination. Truthfully though, that’s not the news everyone is focused on right now — it’s the decision of quarterback Hendon Hooker.
The redshirt senior quarterback was brilliant this fall, taking over and throwing Josh Heupel’s offense into gear to lead Tennessee to seven wins. Hooker, the transfer from Virginia Tech, went from a backup to a potential draft pick over the course of the year. His efficient play has caught the eyes of NFL evaluators, as evidenced by his appearance on Mel Kiper Jr.’s quarterback board. In a light year for quarterbacks, Hooker certainly could benefit if he decided to go pro.
Hooker has one season of eligibility left if he wants it, thanks to the NCAA’s COVID year rule. Another season with Josh Heupel could pay dividends, as Hooker would be viewed as one of the top returning quarterbacks should he stay.
“For all those guys, to me, you just approach it — you want to present information to your players,” Josh Heupel said of Hooker’s decision. “Make sure that they understand where they’re at, what’s being said, what the process looks like. Then you help them understand you want the best for them.”
Hooker completed 69 percent of his passes this season, throwing for more than 2,500 yards. He tossed 26 touchdown passes against just three interceptions. It was quite the improvement from his days at Virginia Tech as a passer — a testament to Josh Heupel and staff. Hooker added 560 yards and five scores on the ground.
“I want everyone of our players to go to the NFL and have a 10-year career and change the course of their life forever,” Heupel continued. “To do that, you’ve got to be physically, emotionally, mentally ready to make that stride. It’s not a league that is a developmental league. So you want to make sure your kids are in the right position, the right frame of mind. When it’s time for those guys to jump, man, shoot, nobody is happier for them than myself, my staff.”
When asked about his upcoming decision, Hooker replied, “just wait.”
For what it’s worth, Hooker did not participate in Senior Day festivities on Saturday.
Here’s a brief video from the #Vols Senior Day ceremony, as an emotional Alontae Taylor runs through the T for the final time.— Jake Nichols (@jnichols_2121) November 27, 2021
Quite an ovation for this senior class, especially for Taylor, Velus Jones and Cade Mays, who walked out in sweats.
Hendon Hooker did not participate. pic.twitter.com/rcdvvzSwT7
The Senior Bowl director, Jim Nagy, had this to say on Hooker after seeing he didn’t take part in the Senior Day ceremony. Hooker has received some chatter about being one of the handful of quarterbacks that would attend the Senior Bowl.
Sounds like Hooker is heading back to Tennessee next year to build off his breakout 2021 season. At least that’s what our people in Knoxville told us this week. Would be a smart move by Hooker. He was one of most improved prospects we watched this fall. Ascending player. https://t.co/eG3gbylHTz— Jim Nagy (@JimNagy_SB) November 28, 2021
For now though, nothing official. Again, the lack of quarterback talent in this specific class could naturally push Hooker up some boards and make him some money. However, if he returns, Tennessee would instantly be viewed as one of the top offenses in college football heading into 2022. He’d have a chance to do quite a bit more damage and get plenty more tape out there.
“When the time is right,” Hooker said of a timeline. “Just praying on it. I don’t know. Whenever that time is right, just talking with my family and Coach Heup. When the time is right, a decision will be made.”
That decision is the single most important moment of the Tennessee offseason.