Hendon Hooker: From the Transfer Portal To Starting Quarterback

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Hendon Hooker
Hendon Hooker nearly left Virginia Tech, but now he’s the starting quarterback. (Ivan Morozov)

Hendon Hooker was built for the quarterback position. In fact, anyone within the Hooker household appears that way.

Hooker’s father Alan was a star quarterback at North Carolina A&T, and Hendon’s younger brother Alston is in his senior year of high school at Ragsdale High.

That love affair for football developed at an early age for the eldest Hooker son.

“My mother told me my first word was ball, so all I was trying to do was play ball,” said Hooker during Virginia Tech’s Tuesday morning media session.

With a father who was selected to the MEAC Hall of Fame at his disposal, Hooker relied on Alan’s experience growing up for coaching and training, and he has now developed into Virginia Tech’s starting quarterback. It was evident during his high school days at Dudley High that Hooker had been around the game more than the average player.

“It was easy to see,” said Dudley High head coach Steven Davis, who coached Hooker for four years. “Just his presence in the pocket. You could see that he had been coached up well. I know his dad worked with him a lot while he was growing up. Then just going to different camps and things of that nature helped groom him to who he is right now.”

It was at Dudley where Hooker truly made a name for himself. He was the backup quarterback on varsity as a freshman behind now San Francisco 49ers cornerback Emmanuel Moseley. However, most of Dudley’s games were decided by halftime, and Moseley was a two-way player with his primary focus at defensive back, so Hooker got more snaps as a freshman than the starter.

Once Hooker took over as the full-time signal caller his sophomore season, he went on to become the most prolific quarterback in Dudley history. The Greensboro native finished his high school career with 6,027 passing yards and 55 touchdowns, along with 2,975 rushing yards with 48 touchdowns. Hooker capped off his time at Dudley with a 54-0 blowout win over Cape Fear in the state championship. 

Despite all those staggering moments between the lines, there’s still one moment on the sidelines that stands out in Davis’ mind about Hooker.

“He had so many great moments,” Davis said. “Him being in practice. The way he was throwing the ball, the way he could read defenses said a lot.

“I just remember one particular time where we were in a game situation. I had a DB who wasn’t doing what he was supposed to do. He was just messing up, and I was getting ready to get him as he came off the sideline, and Hendon kind of pushed me back and said, ‘Coach, I got him.’ That point right there showed me his maturity level while he was here at Dudley.”

Hooker ended his high school career with a bang and headed off to Blacksburg. After redshirting in 2017, he saw limited action last year as a redshirt freshman, but had one of the more electrifying plays of the season when he took a designed run to the house for a 69-yard touchdown. 

At the end of the year, Hooker decided to enter his name into the transfer portal. Many wanted to see him to return home to his father’s alma mater, but less than a month later Hooker removed his name and got back to work as a Hokie.

It was over the summer where he assiduously worked to improve and begin his progression into a quarterback who Justin Fuente and Co. could trust. 

“The thing that I appreciate about Hendon, one of the many things I should say, is just his continued dedication to being better,” Fuente said. “He had a great summer. I’m talking about extra work. Hendon put in a tremendous amount of work in his own free time to try and improve. I think it’s important to him. Just seeing him take huge strides, we still have a lot of work to do. He’s played in one game, but he was able to have success in the game last week not because of how he practiced last week, but because of how he’s worked over the last several years.”

So what was the impetus behind this extended push in the summer?

“Really I was determined to become a better quarterback,” Hooker said. “All-around aspects – leadership, pushing myself in a workout environment like when we’re running sprints, perfecting my craft of throwing the ball. I was getting up every morning just perfecting that, trying to throw the ball better. Just getting in the mindset of I have to work. Without the work you don’t get any benefits.”

Heading into this season, Hooker securely found himself as the backup quarterback. Ryan Willis concluded 2018 as Virginia Tech’s starter, but with seven turnovers through the first four games of the season, the coaching staff decided it was time to give Hooker his shot heading into the Miami game.

“We just felt like it was time,” offensive coordinator Brad Cornelsen said. “There had been too many mistakes and too many turnovers… We just kind of felt like Hendon deserved the shot, and we needed something to change.”

Helped by five turnovers in the first half, Hooker and the Hokies jumped out to a 28-0 lead. The redshirt sophomore was doing it with his arm and his legs, having connected with Dalton Keene for two touchdowns, as well as rushing for one. 

At the beginning of the fourth quarter, Hooker led an 80-yard drive that ended with Keene’s third receiving touchdown of the game to extend Virginia Tech’s lead to 21. The Hurricanes stormed back and tied the game at 35 apiece with 3:16 remaining. 

Hooker never panicked. On the first play of the ensuing drive, he dropped a dime to Damon Hazelton down the sideline for 29 yards. Three plays later facing a third-and-5, Hooker rolled to his right and found Keene wide open on the backside. Deshawn McClease punched in the go-ahead touchdown, and Virginia Tech triumphed 42-35 in hostile territory in Hooker’s first start.

“I think the first thing is just his overall demeanor,” Fuente said. “His ability to stay focused on the next play and to continue to try to execute whatever we’re asking him to do regardless of the circumstance. There was a time in there where they had a whole bunch of momentum. The game was tight or tied. There was plenty of opportunity for a young guy to panic or press, and he did not take those opportunities to do that. He stayed focused and continued to try to execute, which I think is really hard to do that.”

It was the exact type of game that reminded Davis of the “good ole days” when Hooker engineered his offense at Dudley.

“It’s special,” Davis said. “Once he started to run, I think people don’t realize how fast he is. Once he gets out, it will be tough to catch him. I know as the season goes on he will continue to grow… His standing in the pocket just kind of reminded me of him standing in the pocket back here with us.”

Hooker ended the day with 16 rushes for 76 yards and a touchdown. 

His running ability opened up the offense in more ways than one. It allowed the tight ends to get involved in the passing game, and read options were more effective because of the threat for Hooker to keep. When plays broke down, the 6-foot-4, 228-pounder could take off and make something out of nothing.

“It is an x-factor,” Cornelsen said. “When he can make a guy miss, we called boot one time and the end got up the field. As I’m watching the play develop, my thought is ‘We need to throw this ball away and avoid this sack.’ He makes two guys miss and gets eight yards. That’s just kind of an x-factor. All of a sudden, a 1-yard gain turns into an 8-yard gain. Those things are huge.”

The dual-threat quarterback was also effective in the passing game, going 10-of-20 for 184 yards and three touchdowns. When asked to evaluate his passing performance after the game, Hooker was hard on himself saying it was “terrible.” Fuente will live with those 10 incompletions, though, because it was the first game this season that the Hokies didn’t turn the ball over.

“I’m not going to hit all 10 [incompletions] off the top of my head, but one he threw in the ground on a screen,” Fuente said. “I thought two were drops there on that drive in the fourth quarter, one was an overthrow, one I couldn’t tell – we were trying to throw the ball to Damon again, and I couldn’t tell if his arm got hit and the ball landed out of bounds, and there’s a handful of others in there. 

“He was pretty efficient with the ball. The ball was never in danger… He can always be better. I know he missed a couple of throws, but he didn’t miss 15.”

It is just one game, but what does Hooker want to do to keep the momentum rolling?

“Just trying to keep that same attitude of the underdog,” Hooker said. “Just work hard every day, day in and day out. Just trying to push and push. Strain our bodies and our minds to not stoop to a complacent level.”

Now the challenge comes from opponents having film on Hooker. Likewise, it’s another week for Cornelsen and the offensive staff to install looks that fit Hooker’s skill set. 

Hooker is keeping the newfound acclaim in stride, saying the goal is to be a regular guy, not the big man on campus. He’s still the guy who enjoys time with his family after the games on Saturday where he can jaw back and forth with his father about who’s the better quarterback.

Either way, the Hokies may just have found their leader for the rest of the season.

“People are drawn to him,” Davis said. “The thing I would say is the sky’s the limit for him. If given that opportunity he’s going to show off, I can tell you that. He’s got that ability.”

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16 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. Glad to have more on the Deuce Bus, as I’ve seen it live and in person for years. This young man has a skill set that can make this FuFense Go…

    Great Article with the details to support how special Hooker can be for VT…

    Key is continue to get comfortable in that 2nd read in the RPO..

    336 is all in for Hooker!!!

    Let’s Go…Hokies
    BEAT RI.

  2. Aside from how the kid played- I saw him nonchalantly fixing King’s jersey/shoulder pads while he was looking for a new play from the sideline, and noticed several times he helped teammates to their feet.
    Not sure I remember much of that from Willis, tbh.

  3. “Either way, the Hokies may just have found their leader for the rest of the season.” And hopefully
    next season too !

    1. I do kinda wonder if he was feeling ambivalent about things and going into the portal kinda cleared that up for him that his career is going to be at VT.

    1. To whom are you asking that question?
      Could be Hooker about his development or Fuente/Cornelson on their decision to start Hooker.

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