VolQuest - History says year two will be big for Hendon Hooker
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History says year two will be big for Hendon Hooker

Following a breakout campaign that saw him throw for 2,945 yards, 31 touchdown and complete 68% of his throws, senior signal caller Hendon Hooker is back with plenty of expectations for his final run.

Over the last few weeks, Hooker’s name has shown up as a dark horse Heisman Trophy candidate and an under-the-radar pro prospect. But for the North Carolina native, life these days is about work.

Working on his game in all areas - from sliding so he takes less hits - to moving defenses with his eyes. If you are looking for the Vols' frontman, start in the Neyland Thompson Sports Complex where he spends most of his time.

Hooker said he spends “hours” in the building either doing physical work or film work.

“Approach the game from a mental standpoint as a player coach kind of thing on the field being in total control of the offense and just being efficient,” Hooker said.

Hooker believes that efficiency starts pre-snap.

“That’s something I’ve been trying to implement into my game transitioning from last year to this year," Hooker said. "Just studying defenses. Studying how they are thinking and their responsibilities helps me in trying to manipulate them or move them out of spaces so I can hit guys running through windows or sitting in windows.”

According to quarterbacks coach Joey Halzle, the progress in understanding defenses is normal from year one to year two in learning Josh Heupel’s fast pace offense.

“Last year in year one, it’s a lot about how do I call a play, where do my eyes go,” Halzle said. “Now he’s grown to the next step of seeing the second and third reads. Also, he’s able to play games with the defense knowing where he wants to go with the ball, knowing what the defensive structure is, their rules are and how to manipulate that and get the results he wants. He’s really grown this off-season in defensive understanding.”

Growth in the second year of a system is typical, which is why Hooker is getting national off-season love. Growth in the second year for quarterbacks has been a staple under Josh Heupel.

In 13 games in 2019, Central Florida quarterback Dillon Gabriel completed 59% of his passes for 3,653 yards, 29 touchdowns and seven interceptions. In 2020, Gabriel had 3,570 yards 32 touchdowns and 4 interceptions completing 60% of his passes in just 10 games. So in 2019, Gabriel averaged 281 yards passing a game. In year two in the system, Gabriel’s average jumped to 357 yards a game.

When Heupel made his first tour through the SEC as the offensive coordinator at Missouri, his quarterback was Drew Lock. In 2016 with Lock at the controls for his first year, he threw for 3,399 yards, 23 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. In 2017, Lock threw for 3,964 yards 44 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.

Returning a productive quarterback always creates hype for a team in the off-season. That’s definitely the case with the Vols and Hendon Hooker. History also says that Hooker will take a really nice step forward from year one to year two managing Josh Heupel’s system.

For Tennessee fans, that’s the best offensive news they have heard in a long time.