Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker is making quite the name for himself.

As I can attest, living with Hooker as a surname isn’t easy. He seems to be taking it in stride. That was evident in Tennessee’s 45-20 win over South Carolina.

Hooker’s ascension from a transfer to a backup to a potential star has come pretty quickly. Hooker, who transferred to UT from Virginia Tech in January, wasn’t even the starter in the season opener. He was on the bench behind Joe Milton. Hooker might still be on the bench had it not been for Milton’s leg injury.

After seeing both, there were bound to be comparisons. It was hard to make a strong argument for either in September. Hooker and Milton both were athletic. Both had strong arms. Both had a nasty habit of overthrowing wide-open receivers.

And before we start piling all the praise on Hooker, let’s not forget about Josh Heupel. Tennessee’s coach developed the offense that resulted in so many open receivers in UT’s past 2 games. Hooker is taking advantage — but there’s more.

Hooker completed 17-of-23 passes for 225 yards and 3 touchdowns Saturday. As good as that stat line is, it doesn’t define Hooker’s play. He looks comfortable and poised in the pocket. He looks confident but not overly so. He doesn’t make bad decisions. That’s why he’s only thrown 1 interception this season.

Besides selling some black jerseys, Hooker’s play against South Carolina should have Tennessee fans feeling very optimistic about the future. The Vols haven’t had a reliable, play-making quarterback since Joshua Dobbs was under center. That was 5 years ago.

If Hooker’s improvement continues, he may prove to be a better quarterback than Dobbs. Hooker has improved his accuracy, which was always an issue with Dobbs.

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Tennessee online sports betting officially launched on November 1, 2020, and many of the largest sportsbooks are live and operating in the volunteer state. Tennessee is only one of a handful of SEC football states with legalized sports betting.

Dobbs was probably a slightly better runner than Hooker, but the difference is negligible. It’s even less significant when you consider Hooker’s role. He’s not asked to make as many plays with his legs as Dobbs was. Hooker’s running ability is mostly on display when he breaks the pocket.

Hooker, however, doesn’t leave the pocket too soon. He’s looking for open receivers downfield until he has to escape — usually at the last possible second. There are plenty of quarterbacks who are athletic and can throw a pretty spiral. Hooker can do that. There are also plenty of quarterbacks that don’t have the poise that Hooker has displayed.

Hooker has shown me enough to think he can be depended upon when the stakes are high. They are bound to get much higher after two straight blowouts. Hooker didn’t need to perform in the clutch against Missouri or South Carolina. He just kept his foot on the gas.

Hooker should look poised. He started 7 games last season at Virginia Tech. Then, things got weird, as they did for many players during the initial COVID-19 pandemic. It seemed that Hooker and Hokies coach Justin Fuente didn’t see eye-to-eye when it came to Hooker’s health.

Fuente had some strange things to say in December of 2020.

“Not a lot, other than he was obviously having some issues with the temperature,” Fuente told The Washington Press when asked about Hooker’s availability in early December 2020. “He was fine yesterday, fine there after the game, so I don’t know. I’ve never seen that. I don’t know that our medical [staff] has seen an issue like that.

“We’ll try to do everything we can to take care of him moving forward. Obviously, I anticipate this Saturday night it’ll be chilly, so we’ve got to look at whatever we can look at. This is a guy who obviously had some issues with being cold, so we’ve got to find ways we can help that out.”

Am I the only one that thinks those comments are at least odd and perhaps derogatory? They seem to question Hooker’s toughness. Could he just not stand cold weather? No matter. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. As far as Tennessee fans are concerned, the issues between Hooker and Fuente are irrelevant and in the past. Very, very far in the past.

The Vols are thinking about the present and the future with Hooker. His play and Tennessee’s offense make some games look much more winnable than we probably thought in August. Ole Miss will be favored when Rebels coach Lane Kiffin returns to Neyland Stadium. Can the Vols win that game? It looks more likely than it did a couple of weeks ago.

Hooker has thrown 10 touchdown passes since he took over the starting job. He never threw more than 13 touchdown passes in a season at Virginia Tech.

Hooker was also the spark plug that the Vols needed when they came out flat in the second half. Just when the game seemed as if it might be contested, Hooker broke free, scrambled, picked up a first down and led Tennessee to another score. Game over.

It’s a shame that Hooker is a redshirt senior. Because 2020 didn’t count against anybody’s eligibility, he could return next year, but imagining him in Heupel’s offense for 2 or 3 years is bittersweet. Therein lies what should make Tennessee fans most optimistic. Their coaching staff has shown the ability to make the Vols better as the season progresses. It also seems readily apparent that these Vols have bought into Heupel’s approach and his staff.

Enjoy Hooker for this season (and maybe, probably next), but he could have a bigger impact. If Hooker continues to play like he has, then playing quarterback for Heupel looks pretty appealing for highly-rated quarterback prospects.

Let’s not start the Arch Manning talk. I know you already have, but that can wait. The Vols should be in play for several top quarterback prospects thanks to Heupel. For now, enjoy a program that appears to be turning things around and a young man who has overcome adversity time and time again.

This is Hooker’s time.