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Hendon Hooker leads Tennessee's top-ranked offense while playing for God's glory

Hendon Hooker says he used to watch Josh Heupel’s Central Florida teams whenever he could, not knowing their paths would eventually cross at the University of Tennessee. Hooker is now the quarterback orchestrating Heupel’s high-octane offense for the 4-0 Volunteers, who knocked off Florida in their SEC opener Saturday.

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The 38-33 victory was Tennessee’s second win over a ranked opponent and gave the program its first 4-0 start since 2016. The Volunteers climbed to No. 8 in Sunday’s Associated Press college football poll, which is their highest ranking in more than 15 years.

“I really didn’t feel under any spotlight or any stage,” Hooker said after Saturday’s game. “It’s us out there playing football like we do every day. Another day in the office and another outcome how we wanted it to be.”

Hooker connected on 22 of his 28 pass attempts against the Gators for a season-high 349 yards, and added another 112 yards on 13 rushing attempts. He ended the game with 461 total yards, setting a new career-high. The sixth-year senior was named the Walter Camp National Offensive Player of the Week for his performance.

Tennessee leads the nation with 559.2 yards of total offense per game and has scored more offensive touchdowns than every team except Ohio State. Hooker is 17th in the country in passing yards (1,193) to go along with his 11 total touchdowns and zero interceptions.

He’s off to a strong start following a strong season last year, his first with Tennessee after transferring from Virginia Tech. Hooker threw for 2,945 yards, 31 touchdowns and three interceptions in 2021 as the Vols finished 7-6.

Between the end of the 2021 regular season and Tennessee’s Music City Bowl loss to Purdue, Hooker announced he was coming back for a second season in Knoxville. He joined Sports Spectrum’s “Weekly Slant” shortly after the announcement and discussed the role prayer played in his decision.

“Just spending time in prayer and conversation with my family and coaches, I felt like it was in my best interest to come back and use my super senior year — my sixth year — to come back and just develop a little bit more; get a little smarter, a little stronger, a little faster,” he said.

Faith in God is something the Greensboro, North Carolina, native said he really made his own once he got to college, although he grew up going to church regularly. One impressive expression of his faith is the comic book he teamed up with his brother, Alston, a quarterback at North Carolina A&T, to create. It’s called “The ABCs of Scripture for Athletes,” features some of their favorite Bible verses, and is designed with young athletes in mind.

Hooker is also outspoken about his faith on social media, and his bios on Twitter and Instagram include the phrase “Giving him all the Glory.” Even as he puts up eye-popping numbers and garners national attention, Hooker hasn’t lost sight of Who he’s ultimately playing for.

“When I step onto the field, I’m not worried about anything because I’m really playing for an audience of One, and that’s God,” he said on the “Weekly Slant.” “That’s something that the guys in our Bible study and in our community here at Tennessee, it’s something that we pride ourselves in … trying to play for an audience of One and not letting anything else — any outside obstacles — get in the way.”

For Hooker, his outstanding performances are proof of what God can do when someone surrenders control and is willing to work.

“I feel like my time here at Tennessee has taught me that when you trust in God and you put the work in, then anything is possible, and that God will always have your back,” he said on the “Weekly Slant.”

The eighth-ranked Volunteers have a bye week before visiting LSU on Oct. 8.

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