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Hendon Hooker's perseverance leads Tennessee football revival as family proudly watches

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Leon Hooker would have loved this week. He didn’t spit on anyone. So if anyone wants to undermine his grandson, Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker, it’s going to be a literal battle at this week’s LSU game.

Leon was probably 5 foot 9, 160 pounds. He used to make furniture frames in a small town in North Carolina. But watch out for Little League games. He will face judgment.

Once, when his son didn’t play quarterback for the season opener at A&T in North Carolina, Leon told him to go back to his dorm and pack up. they went away.

Alan Hooker, Leon’s son and Hendon’s father, said, “My mother persuaded him.

“He was looking for conflict. If he thought it was unfair, he was going to deal with it.”

That’s why it’s a shame that a key witness to what’s happening in Tennessee this fall is missing. He died two years before he was 78 years old.

“He saw Hendon play [before he died]said Alan. he didn’t let go. He always told me, “You couldn’t make that slow boy. You couldn’t make that slow.”

Grandpa saw early on what people around the world are now noticing. Hendon Hooker, 24, in her sixth year of qualification, is a living example of perseverance, hard work and tears. There was a lot of crying before Hendon got to this point.

Before you go there, let’s evaluate. The move to Virginia Tech comes out of the best game of his career against Florida with his 349 passing yards, 112 yards rushing and 3 total touchdowns. A bye week allowed him and Tennessee to soak up the accolades ahead of his LSU conference. His 4-0 start, Tennessee’s first since 2016, put him ahead of this quick turnaround under his coach Josh Hupel in his second year.

No. 8 Tennessee suddenly looks like a Georgia challenger in the SEC East. That quarterback is certainly a legitimate Heisman Trophy contender about halfway through the season. But in an SEC laden with plenty of QB talent this season, Hooker is the only one who can say he’s leading the nation’s top offense — and that just means everything.

Volunteering is exciting again. Neyland Stadium is sold out. The air on the banks of the Tennessee River has a hint of the past.

Hooker got there because there was a lot he didn’t know. He was unaware of contracting COVID-19 two years before him, essentially derailing his career at Virginia Tech. He didn’t know there was a fear associated with heart disease. Little did he know that the coach who hired him (Jeremy Pruitt) would be fired 19 days after he arrived on the UT campus.

Prove yourself? Went there and did it. This included being transferred from Virginia Tech after appearing in 15 games in 3 his seasons.

“I remember my parents visiting my apartment during camp that fall,” Hooker said of running for his first job in 2019 as a redshirt freshman for the Hawkeyes. Didn’t win it.)

“I was in tears. A great encouragement, my father said, ‘Everyone has a different path. This will be yours. It’s another great scene in your story.’ It helped me get through the tough times.”

When COVID-19 hit him in 2020, the symptoms (loss of taste, runny nose) weren’t the hardest part for him personally. The pandemic has turned his routine upside down. During the offseason, Hooker was used to arriving at the facility at 5 a.m. and pitching early with the facilities manager. During that upside-down COVID-19 period, health restrictions prevented him from even accessing the hot tub after exercising.

Then I had heart problems before the season. Ultimately, the procedure turned out to be fine, but Hooker and his father accuse the procedure of leaving drugs in the quarterback’s system, causing an embarrassing episode three months later. .

Hooker was shown shaking and nearly cramping on the sidelines during a game against Clemson in December. , said his quarterback was “cold.” The temperature was 37 degrees at the time of the game. Hooker said the drugs he used were “reactivating” during his heart exam.

“You sat on the sidelines for a long time and didn’t move,” Hooker recalls. [at Virginia Tech]There is no fever on the sidelines. You try some jumping jacks. Suddenly my body starts shaking.

“My teeth are chattering. I can see my nails turning blue. What the hell are you doing? This is crazy! To come back the next day.” [and see] My coach told the media it hurt that I was just cold. I didn’t know what to say. ”

In that game, Hooker completed one pass at Virginia Tech, missed the snap, and never played another down. The Hokies finished the season with Braxton Burmeister. It became clear that there was no future for him there.

“I grew up in Blacksburg,” Hooker said figuratively. …I jumped in [transfer] Portal after a few days. I remember coming to talk to Coach Fuente. It brought tears to my eyes because I really enjoyed being there. ”

All animosity regarding transfers from Hooker Angle has been resolved. “It’s old news,” Fuente said when asked for comment through an intermediary. Alan told CBS Sports that his son sent his old coach an email last year wishing him a Merry Christmas.

“There’s no hard feelings there. Director Fuente replied, ‘Hey Hendon, you had a great year. I enjoyed watching you,'” Alan shared.

A month later, as a newly arrived transferee in Knoxville, Tennessee, Hendon was researching a strategy document that would become obsolete within three weeks. Pruitt left embarrassed at the center of his ongoing NCAA investigation into bringing the prospect of COVID-19 mortality. The NCAA said Pruitt and his wife spent money out of their own pockets on recruits.

Hooker felt unsteady. When they asked, “Should we look elsewhere?” Tennessee quarterback coach Chris Wainkey urged them to maintain the status quo. , Hoippel added Joe Milton of Michigan through the transfer portal.

Hendon fought another battle to get the starting job. Perhaps this was the moment when Grandpa Leon’s stubbornness sprouted.

“Did he talk about ‘The Last Dance’?” asked Alan.

Hmm, no. It took a bit of digging to find anecdotes that only family members could recount. Hendon and his brother, Alston, began watching documentaries about the Chicago Bulls dynasty as a means of motivation. Half the documentary is about disrespect, incidents, and Jordan’s perception of beef.

These issues are now being resolved on Saturday. Alston, like his father before him, is a quarterback for the North Carolina A&T. Hendon comes out Saturday tied for the nation’s lead in passes for the most touchdowns (11) without an interception this season. Heath he is the only Shuler (18) to have thrown his TDs in a row more consecutively than Hooker (16 and counting) in Tennessee.

Against Florida, Hooker posted the most passing yards against the Gators by a Vols quarterback since Peyton Manning in 1997. Unlike Manning, Hooker also won against the Gators.

Milton started the first two games of that 2021 season before Hooker took over. Tennessee then truly morphed into Whippel’s vision. In seven of his 11 remaining games, the Vols scored at least 45 points. Tennessee pounced on the enemy with great speed. In his career, Hoipel leads all active coaches, averaging 12.79 points per first quarter.

Hooker picked up where he left off at Virginia Tech. His decision making is still incredible. His streak of 212 consecutive passes without an interception has already broken the school record for him 46 times. His career ratio (6.1-1) is almost three times the national average (2.2-1).

Hooker, who finished the 2021 season in 3rd place in pass efficiency nationwide, is currently 6th in 2022. Vols are 5 on averageFive9.3 yards per game. Maintaining an average of 48.5 points per game would set a school record.

Hooker calls Whippel “the best coach in America.” Heupel says no player understood the “why” of it all. Yes, it’s existential, but Whippel seems to be spreading this kind of magic everywhere.

It’s easy to forget that the 44-year-old has two Heisman Awards on his resume. He was the trophy runner-up as quarterback for Oklahoma in 2000. Eight years later, the year Bradford won Heisman at OU, he was Sam Bradford’s quarterback coach in 2017 for Missouri. As offensive coordinator for the NBA, Hupel oversaw Drew Lock leading the nation in touchdown passes (44) and set SEC and Missouri single-season records.

Heupel’s has had a chip on his own shoulder since he was let go by Bob Stoops as OU’s joint offensive coordinator seven years ago. While at Mizzou, Heupel actually recruited Hooker.

“I’ll always remember what Coach Heap saw in me back then,” Hooker said. He gave me some insight into what they were up to that week.I was out of high school and in my top five.

Virginia Tech was chosen because of its warm welcome and vision for the future. After leaving Greensboro, North Carolina, Hooker was chased to North Carolina, Wake Forest, South Carolina, and North Carolina. Then the Wolfpack’s offensive his coordinator, Elijah Drinkwitz, became the first coach to call Alan about his son.

Hooker visited Notre Dame and Oregon. In 2016, when Virginia Tech and Tennessee faced off at the Battle of Bristol, ironically enough, he was in the stands. The Bristol Motors game at his speedway was witnessed by the largest crowd ever to watch his college football game of 156,990.

That night, Hooker convinced his friend Jaren Halston to enroll him at Virginia Tech. Halston is a redshirt senior who still runs with the Hokies. Hendon became a national talking point and had never been so acclaimed since his early days in VT. Of course, grainy VHS tapes are laid out around Hooker’s house as a reminder of something bigger.

They mark Alan as an offensive player in the 1986 Black College Football.

“There were stickers all over Greensboro…that said ‘Heisman Whore,'” his son said.

A 24-year-old soccer veteran, Hooker plays a lot more than he does. He and Alston wrote a faith-based children’s book called “His ABCs of the Bible for Athletes.” Fred Whitfield is watching. His COO of the Charlotte Hornets is a close friend of Jordan, who was once his father’s agent. Alan grew up in small Liberty, North Carolina. One of his local players is Los Angeles, where he went into the minors with the Dodgers. His distant cousin Andy Haden lived in three houses. Heden was the linebacker for his 1981 National Champion team at Clemson.

“He always advised my kids to ‘work hard,'” Alan said.

There are actually two Alan at home. Hendon is Hooker’s middle name derived from her mother Wendy’s maiden name. It is a tribute to her maternal grandfather. Alan is a loving dad who started videoing his son’s warm-ups when he was a red shirt freshman at Virginia Tech.

“He wasn’t going to play,” Allan said. “I just went to record his warm-up. That was his game time.”

Things are very different now. After his senior season 36 years ago, Allan played in the East-West Shrine Bowl (college All-Star Game) and performed well. After the match, many players decided to hang out.

“My father brought in a pickup truck, brought all my clothes, and said, ‘We’re going out. We’re not going out together. You’re not talking to that girl.’ “He grabbed me by the ear and said, ‘You’re not doing that. You have a dream.'”

In his early twenties, Alan’s football dreams ended. He signed his free agency contract with his Dallas Cowboys, which he achieved in August before training cut to his camp. Today, he is a recruiter for the local school district and is very much involved in the lives of his two sons who hold the same position.

But something is missing. Something proud, belligerent, loving.

“He’ll be very proud of Hendon,” Alan said of his father. [Hendon] I was at Virginia Tech. ”