Sept. 11, 2003
Just about anyone that has ever played a varsity sport has accumulated one nickname or another based on their abilities on the playing field. For Georgia Tech standout defensive end Eric Henderson, that is no different, except for the fact that his nickname has nothing to do with any of his exploits on the defensive side of the football. You have to travel back in time to his days of playing offense in Pop Warner football to find the origins of his well-known moniker “Ickey.”
Now a defensive stalwart for the Yellow Jackets, and the reigning Bronko Nagurski Naitonal Defensive Player of the Week after his outing in Tech’s win over Auburn, Henderson starred as a running back, wide receiver and quarterback in his youth, giving him many opportunities to experiment with various forms of end zone celebrations. Apparently the one he took the most liking too was the “Ickey Shuffle,” made popular by former Cincinnati Bengals running back Ickey Woods in the late 1980’s.
“My nickname comes from the great Ickey Woods,” said Henderson. “When I was a little kid, I would score a touchdown and do the Icky Shuffle in the end zone. So, my uncle, Charles Henderson, started calling me Icky Woods. Over time, somehow the Woods got dropped and everyone just kept calling my Icky. I wasn’t a Bengals fan as a kid, but I just picked up the dance.”
As Henderson grew, the chances of him being the next Icky Woods diminished, and he turned his attention to stopping would be end-zone celebrators from his position on defense. That change has been a productive one, as he was one of the Jackets’ top defensive performers in the upset win over Auburn. Henderson recorded a total of six tackles in the contest, including four stops for losses of 21 yards and a team-high three sacks. Those statistics earned him Atlantic Coast Conference Defensive Lineman of the Week honors to go along with his national accolades. His season sack total of four is just one shy of the five that he recorded as a rookie in 2002 and leads the ACC.
Despite being somewhat undersized for his position, 6-3, 265 pounds, Henderson is still able to make plays, an ability that he attributes to the quickness that he and his defensive linemates possess.
“Our defensive line is not as big as a lot of the people that we are going face on the other team’s offensive line,” said Henderson. “But despite that, we are very quick, and because of that, we are able to do some things that help us make up for not having a lot of size.”
Tech head coach Chan Gailey agrees. “For a guy that isn’t the biggest or the fastest out there on the field, Eric is certainly around the football a lot. He really has a great football savvy about him. I think he understands blocking schemes and because of that, he knows where he can fit to cause problems for the other team’s offense.”
With Henderson leading the way, the Yellow Jackets’ defensive unit is allowing its opponents 13.5 points and 63.0 rushing yards per game, both totals that rank among the national leaders, with the rushing defense total leading the conference. The 230 yards of total offense accumulated by Auburn were the fewest by a ranked team against Georgia Tech since 1995, when 15th-ranked Arizona managed just 219.
While the Jackets were able to celebrate an upset win on Saturday, Tech’s defense has not had the chance to celebrate in the end zone just yet this season, but that hasn’t kept Henderson from working on his dance.
“I try to work on it behind closed doors,” he said. “If I scored a touchdown, I’d do it here if there wasn’t a penalty for it.”
Whether the men in stripes decide to throw a flag or not, if Eric Henderson scores a defensive touchdown for the Yellow Jackets in 2003, for Tech fans, it just might be worth the penalty to see this “Ickey” do his shuffle.