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Quarterback Hendon Hooker of the University of Tennessee spoke at a pregame conference last week and was asked about his pregame ritual. “I just go into meditation mode,” he said. “I put my gospel playlists on, really just listen to a lot of slow jams and really just relax. You know, kind of go through the locker room, dap up everyone, just make sure to let them know, ‘Hey, I’m ready to roll.’ And they give me the reassurance back, you know, by the look in their eye, that they’re ready to roll, too.” The 24-year-old, who chose to return for one more year of college football rather than attend the NFL draft this year, also added that he and his teammate, Joe Milton, read one or two pages of a devotional before each game as well. He described “slow jams” as “nothing but gospel,” citing Kirk Franklin, Kiki Sheard, and Fred Hammond as his favorites.

Despite taking a hit at the end of the first half, Hooker went on to lead Tennessee to a 38-33 victory last Saturday against the Florida Gators. Hendon passed for 349 yards and two touchdowns, as well as tacking on 112 yards of rushing for himself and another touchdown. The Tennessee Volunteers currently are 4-0 for the season. By putting up such numbers, many are in agreement that Hendon is now a solid contender for the Heisman Trophy. Hooker’s teammate and fellow devotional reader, Joe Milton, was initially the starting quarterback for the Vols last season but an injury brought Hooker up from his backup quarterback position and he has now earned himself the starter spot. NFL quarterback Robert Griffin III, who is currently working as an ESPN analyst, compared Hooker’s playing to his days at Baylor University. “When I came into college, I was a bonafide runner … by the time I was a redshirt junior, it was like 50 yards rushing, 400 yards passing. I look at Hendon in that way, but also because what he’s done there at Tennessee bringing that program back to prominence is very similar to what happened at Baylor,” he said.

Hooker, however, has chosen to focus more on using his football career to spread the Gospel rather than just enhance himself. In an interview at First Baptist Church in Morristown, TN, earlier this year, Hooker spoke about using his career to “spread the words of Jesus Christ.” “Growing up in church, you’re around it all the time, so you really have no choice but to attend. I remember us growing up in children’s church, we had a lot of activities,” he said. “My dad used to lead activities all the time in children’s church. We used to have game nights where we would play basketball or have laser tag, but it was always a message within the game. And that was something I took away from that – that I can use the game to get the message out there and spread the word of Jesus Christ.”

Hooker and his brother, Alston, released a comic-book style children’s book called The ABC’s of Scripture for Athletes.  The brothers wrote it as a way to help others grow in their faith. Hooker is also active in The Fellowship Christian Athletes and encourages his teammates in their faith as well. He noted that the Christian life means not being a follower and, “Kind of branching out and being different.”

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