Nov. 12, 2004
by Simit Shah
The toughest challenge for any competitor is sitting on the sidelines while your teammates are in the heat of battle. For Eric Henderson, that agony lasted the first three weeks of the season.
“To be on the sidelines when your teammates are battling, that’s difficult for anybody,” said defensive line coach Giff Smith. “I know it was tough situation for him, and it was tough for the team. We’re glad to have him back.”
Henderson and the Yellow Jackets host Connecticut Saturday at 1 p.m. at Bobby Dodd Stadium/Grant Field.
“It was hard,” the all-ACC defensive end explained. “Being out is something I’m not used to. I’ve never missed football games in my life. The guys are out there in combat, and it makes you hungry.”
That hunger has been on display since his return in week four of the season. Not coincidentally, the Jackets have turned out two of their best defensive performances in school history after Henderson returned to the defensive front.
Maryland managed a mere 81 yards of total offense, as Henderson notched six tackles and one and a half sack. His performance earned him ACC Defensive Lineman of the Week honors.
A week later, Henderson recorded eight tackles, including three and a half for losses, to help hold Duke to just 184 yards of total offense.
“There’s no doubt having him back helps,” said linebacker Chris Reis. “Everyone sees it when he makes plays, but most people don’t see the contribution he’s making even when he doesn’t get the tackle or sack.”
Last week against N.C. State, Henderson helped the defense shut out the Wolfpack in the second half, allowing the Jackets to stage a fourth-quarter comeback.
“[Henderson’s return] has added some stability to the unit, being able to balance out our front with him and Travis Parker on opposite sides,” Smith noted. “It puts some stress on opposing offenses. They aren’t able to focus on Travis like they were early in the season. He also brings some excitement and enthusiasm on the field.”
The biggest impact of Henderson’s presence shows up in the sack category. In their first three games, the Jackets had three sacks. In the five games that Henderson has started, the team has 23.
“We’ve always had a great bunch of guys,” Henderson said. “I love them to death. The difference is that we’ve just gotten our communication together.”
While the 6-3, 265-pound junior from New Orleans is soft-spoken off the field, he lets loose on gamedays. If number 56 isn’t in on a defensive play, he’s usually the first one there to congratulate his teammates.
“I’ve always been that type of guy,” he said. “It’s just the way I play football. I love to get loud, talk and get guys pumped up the whole game.”
Henderson’s success in his first three seasons has already catapulted him among the best defensive players to ever suit up at Georgia Tech. He is fifth all-time in tackles for loss with 46.5 after setting a single-season record (24) last year. Henderson is also sixth on the school’s sack list with 18, trailing the likes of Greg Gathers, Marco Coleman and Pat Swilling.
“He really enjoys the game of football,” said Smith. “If he keeps working hard, I’m sure he’ll have an opportunity to play at the next level.”
“I think that’s every kid’s dream to play in the NFL,” stated Henderson. “There’s still a lot that I need to do here to help us win, but everyone thinks about it. If it’s meant to happen, it’ll happen.”