Inside the recruitment of Seantrel Henderson (cont.)
Henderson, 18, was born a month premature, but respect came immediately. His father has addressed him simply as "Sir" since birth.
"I wanted him to know how to treat people," said the elder Henderson, a property manager who plans to relocate his family to Los Angeles by September.
Questions followed the oversized Henderson wherever he played as a youth.
"How old is he?" was a constant refrain from parents in the stands.
His mother started carrying his birth certificate to games.
Seantrel's credentials needed no backing. Andy Bischoff, currently the running backs and offensive line coach for the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League and a former Cretin-Derham assistant, first saw Henderson play in the seventh grade. After Henderson flattened an opponent, he helped him up immediately.
"If you could read his mind, I'd imagine him thinking, 'Geez, I didn't mean to hurt you,' " Bischoff said.
During homeroom one morning as a freshman, a teacher asked the class how their adjustment to school was going. One boy said he was being picked on by classmates after lunch. No one, except Henderson, spoke up.
"You can sit next to me and no one will bother you," Henderson said.
The evolution of the passive tackle into a lean blocker continued. In the ninth grade, Henderson's shadow lengthened as coaches visiting the private school to see Joe Schafer, then a senior who eventually signed with Wisconsin, wanted him. The first time Minnesota coach Tim Brewster ever laid eyes on Henderson, without having seen him on film, he offered him a scholarship. Charlie Weis, then at Notre Dame and recruiting Cretin-Derham wide receiver Michael Floyd, followed suit.
"If he were to choose Minnesota, he would be the bell cow that other recruits would join," said Cretin-Derham assistant Ray Hitchcock, who played at Minnesota before winning a Super Bowl with the Washington Redskins.
Recruiters pursued tirelessly. Bischoff would set up 7 a.m. workouts for Floyd and Henderson at the school. Once in the fall of Henderson's sophomore season, Billy Gonzales, then the wide receivers coach at Florida, watched the duo go through pass sets and shuttle drills. Gonzalez turned to Bischoff and said, "I've never seen a guy move like that other than Orlando Pace."
In the land of linemen, Henderson was king. His footwork improved from jumping rope and playing basketball alongside the nation's top-ranked basketball recruit, Harrison Barnes, with the Howard Pulley Panthers, a traveling team.
"Every missed layup of mine was a tip dunk for him," Henderson said.
As National Signing Day wore on, Henderson watched USC and Florida assemble top classes. At 11:51 a.m., J.R. Ferguson, a defensive end from Florida, committed to Louisiana State in the same studio. Henderson's father said, "Wow, I thought he was going to Miami."
While checking Web sites on his phone, the father commented, "Guys love to leak things out." When the inaccurate Miami announcement went public, the father received inquiring text messages and phone calls from recruiters.
Meanwhile, Seantrel, dressed in a black Coogi shirt and matching jeans picked out by his girlfriend, played X-Box and ate barbeque chicken on a wintry day. "I wanted to keep it light," said Henderson, who hasn't qualified yet academically and plans to take the ACT next week.
Upon arriving in New York on Tuesday afternoon, Sean Henderson declared that his son would be back in three years for the Heisman Trophy ceremony. As he walked out of the television studio, he said that any doubters would see his son in the Rose Bowl shortly.
"This is about fate," he said.
Seantrel seconded the notion. "I think we can all rest a little," he said. "I have a basketball game Friday."
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