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Hendon Hooker
NFL Draft

Senior Bowl 2023: Get To Know Hendon Hooker

  • Justin Melo
  • January 23, 2023
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The 2023 Senior Bowl will provide an opportunity for NFL draft prospects to prove themselves on the largest pre-draft stage. Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker plans on taking full advantage. Hooker recently spoke exclusively with the Senior Bowl and Draft Network to discuss his motivation for accepting his invitation to compete in Mobile, Alabama. 

Hooker also talked about what he’s striving to prove to NFL general managers and scouts in attendance at the Senior Bowl, his approach to playing quarterback, and more. Let’s get to know Hendon Hooker a little bit better.

JM: Where were you when you found out about your Senior Bowl invite and what was your initial reaction like?

Hendon Hooker: I was actually in the film room doing some draft prep. I was working alongside our quarterbacks quality control coach and graduate assistant at Tennessee. We were breaking down different coverage looks I may get at the next level. 

Our quarterbacks coach Joey Halzle walked in the room with the Reese’s Senior Bowl box that contained the invite. My face just lit up. Attending the Senior Bowl has always been a dream of mine.

I was beyond ecstatic. The first thing I did was call my mom (laughs). She was so happy for me because we had been talking about the Senior Bowl for so long. The day finally came. It’s an honor and a blessing to receive an invite.

JM: That sounds like an incredible moment. What was your motivation for accepting the Senior Bowl’s offer?

Hendon Hooker: Attending the Senior Bowl has always been a dream of mine. I set a goal for myself throughout the 2022 campaign to play well enough to receive an invite to the Senior Bowl. 

I was roommates with Velus Jones Jr. last season. We posted our goals on the wall inside our living space. We discussed our future. We set out a clear list of goals to achieve way back in January when I first enrolled at Tennessee. We wanted to win an SEC Championship and a National Championship. We also talked about getting an invite to the Senior Bowl. Last up, we wanted to be drafted and provide for our families. 

I set a goal for myself to attend the Senior Bowl. To see that goal come to fruition now, it’s an incredible feeling.

JM: It’s a dream come true for you. How can you take advantage of your time in Mobile without physically participating? What can you prove to general managers and scouts throughout non-contact activities?

Hendon Hooker: I’m going to establish strong connections during my time in Mobile. I’m going to display my excellent communication skills. I’m going to prove that I can learn a new system. I’m going to be efficient while learning a new offense. 

I’m going to challenge myself to take every mental rep I can take. I’m excited to meet new people and make new connections. There’s going to be a bunch of excellent athletes from all over the nation in attendance. 

I might meet a future teammate. The football community is huge. I want to get to know everyone at the Senior Bowl. I’m excited to meet general managers while answering any questions they may have for me. I’m going to enjoy the process.

I’m going to conduct myself like a professional in the meeting room. I want to prove that I can comprehend plays and break down defenses. I’m going to elaborate on our offense at Tennessee while discussing X’s and O’s. I’m a high-character teammate first and foremost. I can lead a team. What I can bring to an organization is extremely valuable. 

JM: We love that. You’re going to impress a lot of people in Mobile. How is your recovery and rehab going?

Hendon Hooker: My recovery is going great. I’m happy to announce I’m ahead of schedule. We’re still being protective of my knee. I’m rehabbing six days a week. I’m also lifting [weights] six days a week. I’m taking all of the mental reps. I’m throwing while sitting down. 

I’m doing everything I can. I’m a football junkie at the end of the day. I’ll take my fix where I can. That’s something I’ve been doing. The process is going great. I approach every day of rehab like it’s a leg workout. Okay, we have leg day today (laughs). That’s how I approach it daily.

I’m enjoying the process. I’m treating it as if I was healthy. I’m squatting, benching, and things of that nature. I’m doing everything my body can handle. I’m ahead of schedule. It’s just another workout in my eyes.

JM: You have the right mindset and approach. Now that you’ve had time to think about it, how do you look back on the decision to transfer from Virginia Tech to Tennessee?

Hendon Hooker: I made the right decision for myself. I made some excellent connections. I elevated my game and became a better football player in the process. I put myself in a position to lead a group of men. I hold that near and dear to my heart. 

We did things to change the trajectory of the program. We changed the national outlook. It was a special thing. We won 11 games for the first time since 2001. I gained some valuable experience along the way. I made memories that will last a lifetime. I left my mark at Tennessee. I did everything I dreamed about doing.

JM: I’m going to build on that a little. Your legacy at Tennessee will go down in history. You’re a special player and person that the community will never forget. You’ve helped change the national narrative and trajectory of the program. It’s funny to hear you talking about the trajectory because that’s exactly what I wrote down. What comes to mind when I tell you these things?

Hendon Hooker: I’m reminded of the passion that everyone has. I think of the passion within the Knoxville community. The passion of Vol nation which myself and my teammates identified with. We know what we went through together.

We weren’t 100% sure who our coach was going to be. We were blessed to hire such an excellent coach like Josh Heupel. Coach Heupel was so transparent and open-minded to the things we requested.

I had just transferred from Virginia Tech. I was just trying to get acclimated. I was learning everybody’s name and establishing those relationships. Coach Heupel took every request seriously. We had guys requesting white cleats and things of that nature (laughs). He listened to every request. 

As soon as coach Heupel came in, we told him that we wanted to develop more of a personal relationship with our coaches. We wanted to have a connection with our coaches that went deeper than football. 

Coach Heupel immediately took that into account. He made developing those personal relationships a priority. He took that into account when choosing his coaching staff. He approached things differently. He developed Tennessee’s leadership program. 

We sat down and ran through a series of drills together. We talked about communicating at a higher level. Everything we did was extremely positive. I’ll forever be thankful to coach Heupel and for my time at Tennessee.

JM: That’s incredible. Where does Hendon Hooker find his motivation?

Hendon Hooker: I play for my “WHY.” My “WHY” is my family. After God and my family, it’s football. I’ve been through a lot. I caught COVID in 2020 and they discussed the possibility of open-heart surgery. 

That health scare really gave me a wake-up call. Hey, this game can be taken away from you at any given moment. We didn’t know what the evaluation was going to be when they went in and took a scope of my heart.

I made a promise to the game of football before I went in for that medical check. After God and my family, I wouldn’t put anything above football. Anytime I had an opportunity to sacrifice my time to better myself at football, I was going to put in that time. I devoted myself entirely to football.

JM: That’s amazing stuff. We’re so happy that you’re 100% healthy and have been medically cleared. How did playing in Josh Heupel’s offense help prepare you for the next level?

Hendon Hooker: Coach Heupel and his staff are quarterback gurus. They’re gurus of football. I call them the mad scientists of football (laughs). They do a great job teaching us players. They love to explain the “WHY” behind why we do what we do.

The staff encouraged us to do the right things in order for us to improve as football players. They wanted to help us reach our goals. They wanted to see us go where we wanted to go. 

I remember when coach Heupel encouraged the guys to use some extra gear we had downstairs. He made sure we had enough equipment for guys to stay later or come in at different times. We always had enough JUGS machines to go around. We were always able to get in the film room or weight room. 

Coach Heupel always said that his coaching staff is here to service the players. He made that a point of emphasis. Coaches are supposed to service players. They wanted to get us where we wanted to go.

JM: That’s an incredible point. What sort of responsibilities did coach Heupel afford you at the line of scrimmage?

Hendon Hooker: I had full control of the offense. I was allowed to call whatever I wanted to call. He placed his trust in me. I would go to the sidelines and coach Heupel wanted my input on what we were about to run. Many times he’d flat-out ask me what I wanted to run.

If I got to the line of scrimmage and saw something I didn’t like, I had the freedom to change it. It typically worked out great for our offense. Having that freedom was incredible. 

I remember being on a leash at Virginia Tech. I came to Tennessee and they gave me free range to lead our offense how I saw fit. It was all open grass. Coach Heupel gave me a terrific opportunity for me to showcase my football IQ.

They trusted me because of the amount of work that I put in.

JM: It’s evident once you turn on the tape. As a quarterback with that much freedom, how do you balance taking what the defense gives you versus being aggressive?

Hendon Hooker: You have to play smart football. Most looks we get in a game, I probably saw them at least 40 times during our film study throughout the week. On Sunday we’d watch the entire game film on our upcoming opponent. 

On Monday, we’d get a film breakdown from our graduate assistants. Then, I have my own meetings with our quarterback coach and graduate assistants. We watch more film on Tuesday before practice. After practice, I watch more film. We watch more film with the rest of the quarterbacks and we do the same thing on Wednesday and Thursday.

Friday we have group sessions and answer questions. We go through every look and play we have. I spent more time repeating that by myself on Friday evening. I always had a full understanding of what I’m getting and where I’d like to go with the ball.

I was always prepared for every look I could get. When it comes to being aggressive, that’s about me having faith in my guys. I trusted our guys way more than I feared opposing defenses.

JM: That’s an excellent breakdown. We’re so excited to watch your process at the next level. Is there a player in the NFL you’re looking forward to eventually swapping jerseys with?

Hendon Hooker: I have a couple of guys actually. Former teammates immediately come to mind. My first-ever roommate in college was Caleb Farley at Virginia Tech. Velus Jones Jr. also comes to mind.

I’m a huge fan of Keenan Allen as well. I grew up around him and watched him do his thing. He took over the football scene in our hometown of Greensboro, North Carolina. I’m definitely looking forward to doing a jersey swap with him.

JM: Those are some excellent choices. At the end of the week, what does a successful Senior Bowl week look like for Hendon Hooker?

Hendon Hooker: I’m excited to display my football IQ in Mobile. I have a terrific amount of faith in my football acumen. I’m here for a reason. I’m attending the Senior Bowl to showcase the mental strengths of my game. 

I’m excited to make those connections while displaying my mental traits. I’m going to prove that I’m a leader. That’s what a successful Senior Bowl looks like.

View Hooker’s full scouting report here.

Written By

Justin Melo