Hendon Hooker, Tennessee QB and Heisman hopeful with cruciate ligament rupture out for the season

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A bad weekend for the Tennessee Volunteers took a disastrous turn when the program announced Sunday that starting quarterback Hendon Hooker had torn an ACL in a lopsided loss to South Carolina the previous day.

The injury not only ended his season, but also his collegiate career. Hooker, a 24-year-old redshirt senior in his sixth and final year of college eligibility, had become a leading contender for the Heisman Trophy while leading Tennessee back to national prominence.

“Hendon and the Hooker family appreciate all of your prayers and support,” the volunteers said in a statement shared on social media. “Hendon’s incredible journey was one of faith, perseverance and strength. There were never any obstacles in his way on his way to greatness. Forever a Tennessee legend and the ultimate teammate, we know Hendo will return stronger than ever as he embarks on a promising NFL future. Thank you Hendo.”

Joe Milton, who replaced Hooker as quarterback after his injury Saturday, will be the starter for the Volunteers in next week’s regular season finale in Vanderbilt and in a bowl game. Milton, a redshirt senior who joined from Michigan last year, started in the first two games for Tennessee in 2021 before picking up an injury. That opened the door for Hooker, who took the position at the time and led the Volunteers to a 7-6 finish that year under coach Josh Heupel, back in his freshman season.

Tennessee is 9-2 this year and, even after a 63-38 loss to South Carolina, is in position for its first 10-win season since 2007. If the Volunteers win this Saturday and go 11-2 in a bowl game, it will be their most wins since 2001.

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However, the blowout loss to the Gamecocks will almost certainly cost Tennessee any chance of a national championship this season. The Volunteers remained fifth in the College Football Playoff rankings last week, just one place behind a place in the two-round playoffs, but are expected to take a tumble when this week’s rankings are released Tuesday is given. Tennessee fell from fifth to ninth place in the latest Associated Press media poll released Sunday.

Hooker ended his season with 3,135 yards with 69.6 percent passing for 27 touchdowns and just two interceptions. He also added 430 yards and five touchdowns on the ground and was a leading contender for the Heisman coming in this week.

“He’s playing at a level that I’ve never had with anyone, and I’ve had Heisman guys,” Heupel said said from Hooker on Monday. “He has full control over what we do. If you look at the efficiency of his game, the ability to pay attention to the football, the dynamic moves he makes with his arms and feet, without him we don’t look like we’re playing offensively. He definitely deserves to be part of this conversation.”

Hooker, a four-star candidate who graduated from high school in 2017, first went to Virginia Tech and spent four years there. He started in 15 games in the 2019 and 2020 seasons before moving to Tennessee in the transfer portal. In that two-season streak with the Hokies, he appeared in 19 games and completed 63.1 percent of his passes for 2,894 yards, 22 touchdowns and seven interceptions, with an additional 1,033 yards and 15 touchdowns on the ground.

In Tennessee, Hooker set program records with 20 consecutive games with a touchdown pass and 261 consecutive pass attempts without an interception. He also surpassed a program record set by Peyton Manning (62.5) with a career completion percentage of 68.8 at Knoxville.

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Hooker tore the ligament in his left knee without contact Saturday while trying to plant it in an option keeper in the fourth quarter. He had help leaving the field and did not return to the game.

“It was probably one of the worst things I’ve seen out there,” Tennessee offensive lineman Jerome Carvin said of Hooker’s injury after the loss to South Carolina. “Just to know how hard he works. Probably the hardest working guy I’ve ever played with. It’s such a shame that something like this happens to a man. If I know something, I know that he will certainly recover from it. He is a warrior. I know he will.”

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