The legendary hooker restored the honor of football in Tennessee



If these past two seasons truly marked the rebirth of football in Tennessee, many people will deserve credit for that achievement.

However, two names are at the top of this list.

One is Joshua Kenneth Heupel.

The other is Alan Hendon hooker.

Hendon hooker never play at the college level again. Tennessee confirmed on Sunday that the left knee injury Hooker sustained in the shocking defeat of fifth-placed Vols in South Carolina on Saturday night was as bad as feared, and that he has torn his cruciate ligament and will need surgery at the end of the season had to.

Tennessee senior quarterback Hendon Hooker (Photo: Jamar Coach, Knoxville News Sentinel)

As the sun rose on Saturday morning, so much seemed possible this season. Now that the sun is setting on Sunday evening, things are feeling awfully dark. What looked like a college football playoff team will now be lucky enough to appear in a New Year’s Six game – something that would have been considered a huge achievement in August, but given the breathtaking speed at which everything is moving changed, now feels a lot more like a failure.

Like everyone else, Hooker was responsible for this rapid rise. Hendo Cinco expertly steered the offense that propelled Tennessee back to national prominence. His calm, sweeping control of everything in Heupel’s warp-speed offensive made the Vols a threat to topple any opponent on any square at any time. his arm? Powerful. His legs? Dynamic. his attitude? unshakable. His confidence? Tireless. His off-field character? unassailable. The combination of these factors? Unstoppable unless your name is Kirby Smart and you’ve built a defensive wall of future high-round draft picks that can’t be breached.

Numbers in and of themselves won’t be the full measure of Hooker’s impact on Tennessee’s football program, but let’s pause for a moment to jot down the numbers. Hooker has only started 22 games in Tennessee, but he will exit the program with 6,080 passing yards, 1,046 rushing yards, 68 total touchdowns and 5 interceptions. He completed nearly 70 percent of his passes. He played the quarterback position almost as well as it can be played at the collegiate level. He’s second nationally in quarterback scoring despite playing the third-toughest schedule in the country.

Hooker was far from his best in his last game as Vol, but he still completed 25 of 42 passes for 247 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions. He didn’t turn the ball at all until the cruciate ligament rupture game, when his knee buckled uncomfortably at an option keeper and the shock of pain caused him to lose the ball just before it hit the ground. An immediate reconsideration exactly canceled the on-field call and gave the ball to South Carolina, but you know that wasn’t a comfortable process for the officials. You had to rewind and loop through the scratchy game multiple times, which can’t have been a pleasant experience.

An unusual injury in a 25-point loss to a 22-point underdog ended Hooker’s Tennessee career, but it can’t and shouldn’t define it. His story is so much more than that.

Hooker’s career odyssey began at Virginia Tech, where it held promise but ultimately fizzled out under bizarre circumstances. The Hokies fought under the coach at the time Justin Fuente, and Hooker became one of so many Americans suffering the ill effects of the Covid-19 virus in this miserable 2020. Subsequent medical tests also revealed potentially serious problems with his heart, and there was a stretch where he thought football was going to be “taken away” from him. After further testing and a procedure that finally convinced doctors he was Hooker was suffering from what he called a drug side effect during Tech’s game against Clemson in December, he was shaking so badly on the sidelines that he seemed to be convulsing, and for some reason – probably misunderstandings – Fuente dismissed the matter when Hooker was simply “cold” during a discussion with reporters.

There was no turning back from all of this. Hooker, like many players these days, went on the NCAA transfer portal and enrolled in Tennessee in January 2021. However, nineteen days after his arrival, he became the head coach of Vols Jeremy Pruitt and several employees were fired for cause as a result of an investigation that allegedly uncovered multiple serious NCAA violations.

(Photo: Jonathan Bachman, Getty)

Like everyone on the program, Hooker was confused. But he stayed in Knoxville and was excited when Tennessee hired offensive mastermind Heupel. That summer, however, Heupel stepped out and added another quarterback from Portal — Michigans Joe Milton III — and named Milton the starter going into the season.

It seems inscrutable in hindsight, but everyone in the program who has been contacted by GoVols247 to date insists that Milton was the clear winner of that quarterback contest and that he earned the right to be the man of the season goes. Hooker broke down on conversations with his family, but he kept it together at the football complex and continued to come into work every day to prepare like he was the starter. Then Milton wobbled a little out of the gates and suffered a knee injury, and Hooker actually became the starter — a job he only lost to Saturday’s injury.

Hooker’s time as a Tennessee starter was exciting from the start, and at its peak it was truly special. He led the Vols to victories over rivals Florida and Alabama. He went to Death Valley and slammed the brakes on LSU. Just three weeks ago he was the betting favorite to win the Heisman Trophy as the star and leader of the undefeated team at the top of the College Football Playoff leaderboard.

Everyone on the Tennessee program was convinced that the Vols would win every game they played with No. 5 running the show. The transformation in that building was remarkable, and Hooker was the straw that stirred much of it. Tennessee wasn’t a one-man team — this is a team steeped in stories almost as special as Hooker’s — but the leader of the group was never an enigma. The team’s best player was also its hardest worker, being one of the first in the building each morning and one of the last out of the building each evening. Hooker seemed to be everywhere all the time. He always seemed to be in the complex, but he also put in as many hours of service in the community as anyone. He also co-wrote a book of scriptures for children with his brother Alston hooker, the quarterback at North Carolina A&T. He also enjoyed day trading with his sister. He also had a number of appearances on Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) and starred in several local commercials. He also took quite a few grad school classes each semester, which wasn’t required by UT or NCAA rules, but was required by his mother. He did everything except sleep.

Hooker’s popularity within the program was also virtually ubiquitous. It speaks so much to his character that his roommate and best friend on the team remains Milton – the man whose job he took over. That also speaks for Milton’s character, that should be considered.

(Photo: Caitie McMekin, Knoxville News Sentinel)

Using Hooker’s name in the past tense feels awkward because he will continue to do most of the things just mentioned. He remains connected to the program. His legacy will forever be a part of it. He wasn’t far from reaching the heights of Peyton Manning or Tea Martin and to have a street on campus named after him, and considering where Tennessee was when he arrived and when he left, at least something on that campus must bear his name. Manning and Martin won SEC titles, and Martin won a natty to boot, but neither of them has ever seen Tennessee football at its worst. Hooker did, which would make him just as legendary as these two, as well as Heath Shuler, Condredge Holloway, and the rest of that elite fraternity of all-time greats. You may disagree with this stance, but the view of this end is bound to the core of the earth and will not move.

Hooker’s legacy will never be just a footballer. He restored the honor of one of the most successful college football programs of all time, but he did so much for this city, this region and this state. He made people proud of Tennessee football again.

If there is justice in this situation, Hooker will heal from his injury, regain his explosive athleticism and have a real chance to prove himself to the next level. Nevertheless, he is comforted by the fact that he never has to search long and hard for a job in this field. He deserves that and then some, not only for who he is on the pitch but also for who he is off it.

Hendon Hooker’s football career in Tennessee is over. His Tennessee football history has not, and his Tennessee football legacy will not.

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