Tennessee’s Hendon Hooker had a good day on Monday. It deserved to be better.
The Vols quarterback was honored by the Associated Press as SEC offensive player of the year in the morning. He became the first Tennessee player to receive the honor since Peyton Manning in 1997.
Manning also was a finalist for the Heisman Trophy. Hooker wasn’t.
Instead, four other QBs – Georgia’s Stetson Bennett, TCU’s Max Duggan, C.J Stroud of Ohio State and Southern Cal’s Caleb Williams – were voted Heisman finalists and will be in New York this weekend for the award presented annually by the Downtown Athletic Club to college football’s most outstanding player.
Hooker threw for 3,135 yards and 27 touchdowns this season while throwing just two interceptions. He also rushed for 430 yards and five more TDs. Hooker led the SEC in passing efficiency (175.5), total offense (324.1), completion percentage and yards per attempt (9.53).
With Hooker behind center, Tennessee led the nation in scoring offense (47.3 points per game) and total offense (538.1).
Hooker, who’s a finalist for the Maxwell and Johnny Unitas Golden Arm awards, was at his best in some of the Vols’ biggest victories. He amassed a staggering 461 yards of total offense and accounted for three touchdowns in a 38-33 victory over Florida on Sept. 24. He threw for 385 yards and five touchdowns in a dramatic 52-49 overtime victory over Alabama on Oct. 24. Hooker saved some of his best work for last that day, driving the Vols from their 32-yard line into field goal range inside the final 15 seconds of the extra session.
Against ranked opponents this season, Hooker threw 15 touchdowns passes and ran for two scores.
The Vols won 10 games in the regular season for the first time since 2003. The accomplishment factored into Josh Heupel also being honored by the AP as the SEC coach of the year. He was the first Tennessee coach to receive the honor since Phillip Fulmer in 1998.
During a Zoom teleconference on Sunday addressing UT’s Orange Bowl berth, Heupel referenced Hooker and the Heisman Trophy presentation, lobbying for his quarterback’s presence in New York.
“Hendon certainly deserves to be at that ceremony,” Heupel said. “He certainly is one of the best players in college football. The growth of our program is a direct correlation to what he’s done, what he’s invested, how he’s helped build the culture inside our locker room.”
Hooker’s omission adds another bitter chapter to the program’s Heisman history. Four other Vols – Manning, Heath Shuler, Johnny Majors and Hank Lauricella – all finished second for the award. Tennessee’s George Cafego finished fourth in 1939 and was seventh the previous year.
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Dan Fleser is a 1980 graduate of the University of Missouri, who has covered University of Tennessee athletics since 1988. He is a 2022 inductee to the Tennessee Sportswriters Hall of Fame. He can be reached at email@example.com.