Inside the recruitment of Seantrel Henderson, nation's top O-lineman
In a last-minute decision on Signing Day, Seantrel Henderson chose USC
Henderson has yet to qualify academically and hasn't signed letter of intent
Should USC get hit by the NCAA, Henderson could re-open his recruitment
NEW YORK -- At 3:31 p.m. Wednesday, Sean Henderson, the father of the nation's top uncommitted recruit, Seantrel Henderson, received a phone call from USC coach Lane Kiffin. Curious which school the left tackle planned to announce he would attend on television two hours later, Kiffin expressed concern to the father, who was bowling with his son at the CBS College Sports Fieldhouse, adjacent to the network's studio.
"You're nervous, coach?" Sean Henderson said. "I'm nervous, too!"
Kiffin wanted to reassure the family once more. He spoke with Sean and then Seantrel, a 6-foot-8, 330-pound senior at Cretin-Derham Hall (St. Paul, Minn.), telling both that any upcoming penalties from the NCAA's infractions committee would not make the Trojans ineligible for future bowl games. USC is expected to appear in front of the committee between Feb. 19 and 21 to answer charges of major rules violations.
"Ain't nothing change, coach," Sean Henderson said.
The younger Henderson, who considered Notre Dame, Florida, Ohio State, Miami and Minnesota, had decided he would commit to the Trojans 18 hours earlier in his 16th-floor room at The Time Hotel in midtown Manhattan. Laid out in front of him were the pros and cons of choosing the Trojans over the Buckeyes. He went with USC. Henderson didn't sign a letter of intent, however, and should USC get major penalties from the NCAA he could reopen his recruitment.
The reverberations were felt in his family's vibrating phones after the on-air announcement at 5:33 p.m. Henderson did not call the other coaches beforehand, letting them learn the news with the rest of the country. Within an hour of the decision, "Seantrel Henderson USC" was the No. 2 search on Google's trends list.
"Out of everyone's name in the world, people are searching me," Henderson said, sitting in a white No. 10 USC jersey and eating chicken quesadillas. "Wow, just wow."
The final press to sign Henderson came in various forms. Former Ohio State cornerback Malcolm Jenkins was the face of Buckeye nation with a video plea at the Super Bowl media day that went viral on YouTube. Miami was Henderson's last official visit, and the Hurricanes showed Henderson and his father around South Beach last weekend while the NFL's Pro Bowl was in town. On Wednesday, the Minneapolis Star Tribune declared on its Web site that Miami was the winner 20 minutes before the announcement.
"I was more worried what other people might think," Henderson said. "I developed so many great relationships."
Kiffin's courtship was a whirlwind. He bolted Tennessee, where he spent one season, for Los Angeles on Jan. 13, but former USC coach Pete Carroll had left an impression on Henderson with a visit to Minnesota last spring. When news spread at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl that Carroll was leaving to be the Seattle Seahawks coach, USC recruits expressed dismay.
"I felt it too and I wasn't even committed," Henderson said.
Youth and inexperience as a head coach did not hurt Kiffin, who graduated from a Minneapolis-area high school. His father, Monte, unexpectedly helped bridge the age gap, as well, connecting with Henderson's paternal grandfather.
"They talked like they were long lost friends," Henderson's mother, Bree Jasper, said.
Enthusiastic wooing came from ace USC recruiter Ed Orgeron as well. Henderson, who saw The Blind Side with his girlfriend on Thanksgiving and has been compared to the movie's star, Michael Oher of the Baltimore Ravens, for his size and backstory, recognized Orgeron's distinct Cajun voice from the movie. Orgeron had landed Oher while head coach at Ole Miss.
"He's gonna kill me for saying this, but he was telling me about being on the set of The Blind Side and how hot Sandra Bullock was," Henderson said. "When she hugged him at the end of the shoot, he said he just held onto her."
Though no hostesses were involved, Henderson said he enjoyed his visit to the USC campus, having breakfast on the beach with Carroll on his first trip to California.
"Hollywood's 12 minutes away," Henderson noted.
Cameras have trailed Henderson for an in-progress documentary most of his high school career. In three seasons on Cretin-Derham's varsity, Henderson surrendered one sack and started 36 games, the last one being a state title victory.
"That was the icing on the cake," Henderson said.