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Recruitment, Equanimity, and Departure: Hendon Hooker Shares his Story

By Evan Norris | February 26
Recruitment, Equanimity, and Departure: Hendon Hooker Shares his Story
Hendon Hooker warming up for a game against Duke

Throughout the past fall season, and even until recently, I have seen a lot of discussions going on within the Virginia Tech fanbase about some of the reasons behind the departure of former Hokie QB Hendon Hooker. I saw speculations and sometimes quite absurd things being said about not only the coaching staff, but the university as a whole. About a week ago, I decided to take matters into my own hands.

I reached out to Hendon Hooker to do an interview with myself to talk about his departure from Virginia Tech, his future plans at Tennessee, and various questions about his tenure as a student-athlete in college football. I wanted to know the true answers of what had gone on from Hendon himself, but more so I felt a sense of responsibility to give him a platform to express his side of the story on. On a somewhat bleak Friday in Blacksburg, I held a zoom meeting with Hendon to discuss these things. This is the discussion that Hendon Hooker and I had.

What made you come to Virginia Tech over some of the other offers you had?

"Coming out of high school I was thinking about being close to home and it was only two hours down the road. As well as, Mook Reynolds (former Hokie Safety) being there; he was one of my childhood friends. And when I took my visit up there it was very welcoming and all the players were real cool, so the culture kind of just pulled me in. Then engaging with Terrell Edmunds (Pittsburgh Steelers Safety) and Tremaine Edmunds (Buffalo Bills Linebacker) it felt like I was back at home in Greensboro with my regular teammates from high school. Pretty much the culture of the brotherhood and Justin Fuente just having put a 1st Round Quarterback into the league kind of attracted my interest even more."

What coaches were you developing the closest relationships to while at Virginia Tech?

"I would probably say the GAs honestly. The graduate assistants, primarily Caleb Gelsomino, was my go-to person for anything for regular day-to-day life. That's usually how it is. Like you can come in and talk to the coaches sometimes in college football, like they have a lot on their plate during the day, so usually you get with the GA and they'll talk ball with you for a good amount of time."

For the offensive system that Virginia Tech has in place now, do you think it's built for quick, mobile quarterbacks such as yourself to succeed? And do you feel like you were limited or held back by the system?

"No, the system is great. You know they were plays that could be made. That's kind of with every play, if you call the right play at the right time then it is going to work. I was put into some tough positions where I was just relying on making plays myself, but other than that it is just football at the end of the day. You either call it at the right time or you don't. Hindsight is always 20/20."

Now onto Virginia Tech fans, they have been notorious for some of their words over social media (primarily Twitter), now in your mind are their concerns with the program validated or perhaps a bit too much?

"I mean when you are outside looking in, you don't really get the full gist of what is actually taking place. You know as a player, and me viewing the fans, they are very passionate about the program and football. I understand that completely and that's why we go out there and try to put on a show every Saturday or whenever we might play. Anytime we are on the field we try to please the crowd and have fun ourselves. We fully understand where they are coming from with the sense of pride they have for Virginia Tech."

Take us through a football season with COVID-19 and how that impacted everything from spring practice to the eventual season.

"The day-to-day is pretty much the same except there are no outside visitors, so like your parents can't come to your spring practice and there is no official visits. Then on top of that there are no fans, but on a day-to-day basis you have to follow protocol and have to get tested three times a week via nose swab for COVID-19 testing. Everyday you come to the facility you have to get your head scanned for temperature, making sure your temperature is down. Also we had to fill out a symptom form to tell them we haven't had any symptoms or been out of the state or been around anyone that has shown symptoms. When it comes to the football aspect of it, at first they tried to get us to wear the visor masks on our helmets and they were telling us we couldn't wear the shield visors without wearing the facemasks with it. Guys were quick to take the shield off because it was getting too foggy. Then they came up with a solution to make the masks skinnier, so just trying to maintain the normal day-to-day life. We were trying our best to play football and maneuver around COVID-19, but other than that everything else was normal. Playing football is playing football."

Do you think the lack of consistent practices where you couldn't always have everyone together effected the gameplay in the fall?

"Not really, I can say that when someone contracted the virus or had to sit out due to contact-tracing when you come back it is like...I heard Cam Newton use this analogy the other day, it is like we are in two separate cars driving to the same destination, but I have to pull over to get gas so I tell y'all to go ahead to the destination, when I get back on the road I have to play catch up. That is pretty much it, guys physically have to catch back up to the guys who have been practicing. When I got contact-traced I was out for 14 days and imagine not throwing a ball for 14 days and other guys have been practicing the whole time still in their regular rhythm. That's a big jump. And physical strength is going to decrease because you aren't lifting weights and like you aren't eating as well because you don't have the freedom to go out and get your own food. It was a lot of different factors that added in."

We didn’t see you take an official game snap until the 3rd game of the season at UNC, what kept you out? Some speculated injury or possibly COVID-19 related issues.

"I haven't really told anyone this, so you are basically getting the exclusive on this. After you have COVID-19 you have to go through testing, so when they did my testing they tested my heart to make sure everything was good. We did that on a Tuesday, and at Virginia Tech you have practice Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and walk-through on Friday, with a game on Saturday, so I wasn't trying to miss any practice. So on a Tuesday, I went in and got scanned, going through game preparation thinking I was going to play and they came back and told me they thought something was wrong with my heart. We went in to go get it scoped out, they went in with like a camera to look at the inside and said nothing looked wrong, only a false alarm. Undergoing that procedure though I had to go under all the medicine, so that was a Friday and the doctors were asking me if I was going to play on Saturday. I was like, "Oh no, I haven't practiced all week" and I hadn't gotten cleared so when we came back I was hoping I would play against Duke. I was still ready to go, I was ready to play Duke, but I didn't end up playing Duke and I don't know why. Then we went to Carolina and I was expecting to play, so we're getting ready to play Carolina and I only got about 3 plays in the first half. And then they said "Hendon lets go!" and I was ready to go ready to roll, so I was ready to go after that. Since that day forward I sort of had this mindset that I’m blessed to be here and blessed to play football, instead of being in a hospital bed.

Everyone is still kind of wondering what happened during that Clemson game back in December. Can you take us through that game and what actually happened?

"I came out the game and Braxton took the next series, I was standing on the sideline and for some reason my body started shaking and twitching, as if I still had the medicine in my body from the procedure done on my heart. I just got real cold I don’t know what happened but my body just got really cold and started shaking uncontrollably. It had lasted for about 2 1/2 hours. They told me to go back out there because Braxton had gotten hurt, like I’m shaking and I am trying my hardest to keep my hand steady so I can catch the ball and hand it off. I knew what I had to do but nothing seemed to work, until i submerged my body up to my neck in a warm tub. I was in the tub for like an hour then I was pretty good after that. I don’t know what happened, it was even crazy to me I was like what in the world is going on."

So it was announced that the team would not be seeking a bowl opportunity this postseason, why do you think that decision was what it was?

"It wasn’t by the team. I know a lot of guys wanted to play because that’s an extra opportunity to get film to be with our teammates that are about to graduate. I guess it was a seniority decision so we didn’t go. Everyone was really drained we had just played about nine games straight so I can imagine. Also, we had some guys that we’re going to the senior bowls that wanted to prepare for that and needed a quick break. A lot of guys wanted to play and a lot were exhausted in their bodies were worn down. Either way I enjoyed my time with all of my teammates. If we would’ve played one more game I definitely would’ve been there for sure, supporting or playing."

What ultimately ended up being some of the main factors that led you to pursue other roads in your college career?

"I graduated early and still had some years of eligibility. I had been at Virginia Tech and did everything I told them I was going to do. I stayed and finish school and after that I felt like it was time for new beginnings. A lot of the guys out of my recruiting class that came in there with me pretty much left, so it was only about a handful of guys that I came in with that were still there. Just sitting down and having a conversation with my family we felt that it was best to split ways."

Did you get the amount of support you were expecting when deciding to transfer?

"Yeah I did for sure. There’s a lot of people on my side and a lot of people that are always going to be Hendon Hooker fans, and I love them for that. That support really means a lot to me, so it was a blessing to have everybody on board."

Tell us a little bit about the Transfer Portal and how that process looks like.

"The recruiting process is something that I absolutely hate. You have to answer a lots of calls, have to send a lot of texts back, and that’s a lot of constant communication. It wasn’t really the communication part it was more so like "Oh here’s a number do I know this number?" so you have to take every call just to make sure you don’t miss anything. I’m not a guy to sit there and be on my phone 24/7, so that part I hated. I wish I could drive to schools and talk face to face, but in these circumstances we can't. And if I wanted to go see a campus for a visit I couldn’t do that, so Tennessee I had already been there and visited the campus. So let’s say I want to go visit a place on my list like Colorado, I have never been to Colorado before, so If I decided to go out there I would be going blind. Through the process it was pretty cool because I felt like a young guy again, like I was coming out of high school. Just seeing some of the coaches that reached out and how small the world is, I saw so many coaches that recruited me when I was in high school at new schools. Like Coach Heupel, he was recruiting me at the high school when he was at Missouri. And Missouri was one of my final schools that I might've gone to."

Why Tennessee? And what other schools pursued you?

"It’s not too far from home. Coach Graham was here before he left and even at Florida State where he recruited me there. Coach Chris Weinke, a quarterback great who won the Heisman, so to be developed and coached by a Heisman winner is a great opportunity. Also, being coached by another Heisman finalist with Coach Heupel, the second In line to win the Heisman behind Chris Weinke. I am really blessed by the Lord who really paved the way and laid out everything for me to be successful. I am excited to start my journey here and make some plays on the field. Other schools that reached out to me were NC State, Colorado, Ohio State, and Northwestern. There are a lot of guys who are senior graduate transfers or 5th year seniors who have the same accessibility as me to other schools. Also, a lot of guys aren't leaving because they have an extra year of eligibility where they are."

In what ways is Tennessee different than VT and how are they similar?

"It is kind of similar in the sense the locker room still has every type of personality and everyone is going to interact with everyone. A real sense of brotherhood for sure. Another way, humongous campus with a great fan base. A lot of electricity in the fan base, the same as Virginia Tech. Some differences, there are a lot of guys from down south here than at Virginia Tech where there’s a lot more up north or east coast guys. Other than that it’s pretty much the same you know like when you go to a college campus it’s all the same students walking around. The rules in Tennessee are way different than the rules in Virginia regarding COVID-19 and masks."

A lot of people are seeing you as a very experienced dark horse out of that Tennessee QB Room to take the starting job in the fall, what do you say to people who doubt your ability?

"I love you. Thank you for doubting me. You give me hope that I really am something because you doubting me is telling me you see it, but you don't want to believe it. I am going to make you believe."

What would you say, leaving Virginia Tech, your relationships with Justin Fuente and Brad Cornelson are?

"We haven't really had any conversations. Last conversation I had with the coaching staff was that I was leaving. And they gave me a hug, that was all."

Do you believe the NCAA and its schools are doing enough in the fight for social justice? What are some changes you’d like to see done?

"They are making a big push on the social justice and the in's and out's of it. We are still working on it and they are all trying to maneuver around how to show that they do care and they are still working on it. And us as players are still trying to develop more ways to bring acknowledgement to it while we are on the field and when we are off the field as well. You know different programs are setting up to acknowledge it and improve it as well."

Evan Norris

What’s going on Hokie Nation! My name is Evan Norris and I am currently a sophomore studying HNFE here at Virginia Tech. I’ve grown up a Hokie my whole life, with family members being huge Hokie fans.

Growing up I’ve witnessed Virginia Tech Recruiting first-hand through family friends being recruited and through players at the University. Also growing up in some of the best recruiting areas the state has to offer, in the Hampton Roads Area and Richmond Area, I have seen great high school football growing up. This has led me to strive for a future career in college football recruiting. I run @RedCupVT on Twitter/Instagram to keep up engagement with prospective recruits and fans alike.

You can follow me on Instagram (@evantnorris) or on Twitter (@evannorrist). And with no further regards, Go Hokies!

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