Virginia Tech’s 2020 Season: The Year of Hendon Hooker

There is no more important player on Virginia Tech’s roster right now than Hendon Hooker.

Sure, it’s easy to award the team’s expected starting quarterback with that title, but that doesn’t make it any less true. The remainder of Hooker’s career, and especially this season, will go a long way in determining Virginia Tech’s future.

While 2020 may not be the litmus test that it was supposed to be — another thing COVID-19 has ruined — this coming season is still paramount for the program. And not one player single-handedly controls the fate of the 2020 season as much as Hooker does.

Twenty-nineteen was a coming out party for Hooker, the former four-star prospect who spent time in the transfer portal before returning prior to the 2019 season. Hooker took over for a regressing Ryan Willis, who failed to consistently move the ball on offense and turned over the ball on many an occasion.

Hooker changed the course of the program in just eight games. Hooker started eight games in 2019, amassing 18 total touchdowns and a completion percentage over 61 percent. Hooker’s heroics helped the Hokies win several games, including his four touchdowns vs. Miami. Hooker steadied the ship and despite two losses to finish the season, it’s hard not to look back on Hooker’s 2019 campaign as a success.

But the 2020 campaign is a different animal. Virginia Tech enters the season missing three of the Hokies’ top six receivers from the last go round. Damon Hazelton, Dalton Keene and Hezekiah Grimsley are not easily replaceable.

And so, Hooker must take on a larger load in the coming war. He has reliable lieutenants by his side — Tre Turner will surely be an explosive option on the outside, James Mitchell should continue to create mismatches and Khalil Herbert is poised to give the Hokies a productive running back. But still, Hooker must grow and elevate into something he wasn’t in 2019 — a star.

Schools like Virginia Tech exceed their expectations when a certain player, usually a quarterback, rises to stardom and asserts himself as the best player on the field between both teams. Tech has learned this before — Michael Vick pushed the Hokies into the national championship game, Tyrod Taylor carried an excellent defense to a conference championship and Jerod Evans blew everyone away with his perseverance and determination.

Hooker has a chance to put himself in that category of quarterback. His combination of athleticism, arm talent and demeanor make him a glowing example of a player primed to take the next step. The War of 2019 was a success for Hooker, but he must play a larger role in this year’s battles, battles that are even more important.

Virginia Tech’s 2020 crusade for an ACC Championship has gotten a lot harder. The team’s most talented player, Caleb Farley, is sitting out this year in preparation for the NFL Draft. Tech is in a limited practice mode, forced to modify their normal structure to socially distance their players. The schedule is more difficult, thanks to the addition of ACC King Clemson.

The Hokies will rely on their general to guide them through the conflicts that lay ahead. They’ll look to Hooker for strength, poise and energy when the rest of the team has none left to give. They might need Hooker to carry them when they fall, and they might even need him to step aside and rely on his teammates to carry him when he struggles.

But one thing is for certain — the fate of the 2020 season relies heavily on Hooker. If he grows into the general that everyone knows he can, then the next few months should prove fruitful for Virginia Tech.

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