Hendon Hooker knows sleep is a valued commodity for an athlete in terms of performance recovery. But Hooker has so much he’s excited about each day that it’s hard for him to stay still.
The Tennessee redshirt senior quarterback says he looks forward to getting up each morning and “embracing the grind.”
Hooker can’t wait to get to the facility, watch film, work out and throw some passes to his receivers. Then, he jumps on a few calls to discuss his name, image and likeness business deals and check in with his family.
“There’s so many things going through my head. I try to sleep, but the only time I really get sleep is Friday night before games,” Hooker said. “That’s the only time I get sleep, and that takes a little melatonin, because I’m so excited to get up and play.”
Hooker is taking full advantage of his final season of college football. The Virginia Tech transfer is entering his second season with the Vols and will be the team’s starting quarterback from the opening snap this season.
The North Carolina native represented UT at the recent SEC Media Days at the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta. Hooker charmed nearly everyone in attendance with his personality, maturity and thoughtfulness.
Along with discussing the team’s outlook this season and his growing comfort in head coach Josh Heupel’s offense, Hooker was promoting a faith-based children’s book he co-wrote with his brother, Alston, a quarterback at North Carolina A&T.
“Growing up in the church, faith is big in my family,” Hooker said. “(I’m) trying to instill that in my little cousin, Landon Hooker. He’s 6 years old. All he wants to do is play ball all day, so we’re trying to encourage him a little bit more, so we made kind of a more appealing book to kids. But everyone can indulge in some Scripture for sure.”
Hooker can serve as a poster boy for how NIL has changed the landscape for college athletes over the last year. He’s managed to sign several deals with companies to earn money while also using his status to give back to the community.
The day before he arrived in Atlanta, Hooker and wide receiver Cedric Tillman were in New York City. The two-day, expense-paid trip was arranged by Spyre Sports Group, a collective that pays UT athletes.
The purpose of the trip was to network and learn more about NIL. Hooker and Tillman met with companies like Topps trading cards, Barstool Sports, Shake Shack and Fanatics. They visited NASDAQ in Times Square and even had their faces plastered on the side of the iconic building.
“It’s a great thing for us to be able to venture out and learn things that we’re interested in,” said Hooker, who revealed that he regularly day trades on NASDAQ with his sister. “Not just football, but business and putting us in a business mindset early on in life. I think it’s a cool thing.”
Although NIL has been a polarizing subject for some in college sports, Heupel is a major proponent. He loves seeing what Hooker has done with his status, and believes NIL opportunities are a major attraction for UT recruits.
“The Power T is one of the strongest brands in all of college sports. It is that because of the passion and pageantry and fan base,” Heupel said. “All things I thought from the outside looking in, but now I have a great appreciation for now that I have been here for 18 months. The state, Vol Nation, across the country – absolutely it is a positive for Tennessee football.”
In Heupel’s view, the value of NIL goes beyond just the money being made. It’s a chance for players to learn more about finances and business at an earlier age.
“It’s an opportunity to educate and empower our student-athletes, which is what college football and the collegiate experience is all about,” Heupel said. “I think it’s dramatically changed the way that young people come into your program, how thoughtful they are about every situation that they’re involved in, how they’re portrayed in what’s out there on social media, the decisions they’re making every night of the week. I think in those ways it’s such an empowering tool for our student-athletes.”
Heupel reflects back to when he was the quarterback at Oklahoma and how much value he and his teammates created for the program during his years guiding the Sooners.
“I would have liked to have had an opportunity to have been afforded to take part in NIL, would have liked to have worn my starting left tackle’s jersey or worn his shirt,” Heupel said. “I look at my own kids, Jace and Hannah, that get a chance to run around the house or run with their friends and wear a Cedric Tillman and Hendon Hooker shirt or jersey. I think there’s empowering opportunities through NIL.”
Being the starting quarterback at UT will always put a player on a higher platform than many across the country. The ability to capitalize on NIL deals will always be plentiful.
But Hooker realizes his success on the field is what will drive his value even higher. He’s making sure that remains the highest priority.
“I am excited to play ball. It is a blessing. It is what I love to do. It is my happy place,” Hooker said. “Whenever I am on the field, I take it and run with it, because it is my passion. Anytime I am around my teammates or in the facility, it is a blessing. I am going to make plays. I am here to play ball and win ballgames.”
Hooker’s strong work ethic has been a lifelong trait. He’s been conditioned by his family to make the most out of every day and never settle for anything less than his best.
“Honestly, I was kind of raised to do what I’m doing today, from an early age,” he said. “I remember being in third grade and my mom was in the basketball gym with me getting my rebounds at six in the morning before school, and kind of carrying that over.
“Like, this morning, I was up at five o’clock and I’m in a facility working out at 5:30, and then take a shower, hop on the plane, come here. That work has been instilled in me my whole life.”
Largely because of his play behind center, the expectations for the team are much higher than last season. The Vols are picked to finish third behind Georgia and Kentucky in the SEC East in the preseason media poll.
Beyond the opportunity to guide Tennessee on the field, Hooker welcomes the chance to represent the Vols in all aspects and be a mentor to his younger teammates.
“I came here to be a leader at Tennessee, to be a positive light in the community and in my teammates’ eyes as well,” Hooker said. “I want to lead them in the right direction, not just on the field but off the field, whether that be me giving them advice on how to manage their money or how to change a tire. It’s different things that are intertwined into that leadership position.”