Tennessee Vols starting quarterback Hendon Hooker is widely viewed as a potential “darkhorse” Heisman Trophy candidate in 2022.

A year ago at this time, very few people outside of Knoxville, TN, Blacksburg, VA, or Greensboro, NC even knew Hooker’s name. Now he’s one of the top quarterbacks in the nation.

That’s what happens when you take over the starting job at Tennessee and proceed to dazzle fans and analysts by throwing 31 touchdowns against only three interceptions.

Hooker was a revelation for the Volunteers last season. He was a savior for a team that badly needed an on-field general after watching Joe Milton struggle as the starting quarterback during the first six quarters of the season.

So what makes Hooker so good? What makes him one of the best quarterbacks in the SEC after he struggled to find his way at Virginia Tech for three seasons?

According to Vols head coach Josh Heupel, it’s his competitive nature.

Vols
Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker (5) runs the ball during a game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Fla. on Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021.
Kns Tennessee Florida Football

“His competitiveness and the physical way that his competitiveness comes out on game day,” said Heupel in an interview with ESPN this week. “All quarterbacks have to be competitive. But for him, man, it’s the way he plays the game. People know he’s going to lay everything on the line on every play, and they know how he prepares. Every day, you’re going to see him in our building early and leaving late, always trying to find a way to get better.”

Not only does Hooker’s competitiveness help him excel on the field, but it’s also contagious. According to Heupel, Hooker leads by example and it’s rubbing off on his teammates.

“I think that extra work and the positive communication that he has with his teammates, the way that he leads, has transcended our team room and our locker room,” explained Heupel. “You’re starting to see those attributes in more guys and more positions too.”

Physical attributes are obviously important — a quarterback has to be able to make all the throws, elude pressure, etc. But the most important traits a quarterback can have are competitiveness and elite leadership.

And Hooker has both of those attributes. Which is why I think we could see Hooker have an all-time great season for the Vols in 2022.

Featured image via Bryan Lynn-USA TODAY Sports