Tennessee football already has plans in place to move on without former All-American quarterback Hendon Hooker. The Vols have a senior with experience, Joe Milton, and a freshman at the ready, Nico Iamaleava, that are expected to replace some of the play-making ability that made Hooker a star last season. However, Hooker did more than just make plays.
Hooker, by all accounts, was Tennessee’s team leader among the Vols’ players. He was a perfect mix of poise and passion. While his public comments were often subdued and, well, kind of bland, Hooker wasn’t afraid to hype up his teammates when it was deemed necessary. Hooker could always provide the “juice,” as Tennessee tight end Jacob Warren called it during the Vol Report.
“Hendon was always really good about being comfortable, stepping up in front of everybody and yelling, whether it’s ‘Let’s go. Come on. It’s time to go,’” Warren said. “He’s always very good with his words about trying to encourage his guys and get everybody hyped up.”
So who are some of the players that need to step in as leaders during off-season workouts, spring practice, summer drills, preseason camp and, eventually, the season? Warren will certainly be one after deciding to return to Tennessee for his final season of eligibility after considering an NFL exit.
Here are some others that are expected to become more of a leader, according to center Cooper Mays, who has challenged himself to step up in that role as well.
Beasley is clearly and up-and-coming player. He’s also a rising leader for Tennessee football. The linebacker will be needed to calm things down in tense situations on defense, which is likely to happen given Tennessee’s up-tempo pace on offense.
The starting quarterback simply has to be a leader and, as for not, that’s Milton. The senior should be able to be a leader as long as he maintains the starter role. Milton is more outspoken than Hooker was so a leadership role might actually be more comfortable for Milton than it was his predecessor.
Thomas was recently named to the SEC Leadership Council. That gives him a voice in the conference, but Mays said the defensive lineman can also – and is expected to – become a more vocal leader this season. After losing EDGE rusher Byron Young and Tre Flowers to the NFL, Tennessee football needs a guiding force on defense.
McCoy was an enigma last season. It was unclear if he would even be able to play before the 2022 season. Now, he’s proven himself as a grateful teammate and one of the Vols’ most talented players. That means he can voice his opinion more in 2023, which will be valuable to an otherwise inexperienced receiver corp.