Hunter Henry's path to success

Once an OT, Watch List TE's future changed after coach saw him play hoops

Originally Published: April 13, 2012
By Jamie Newberg | ESPN RecruitingNation

Hunter Henry's path to becoming one of the nation's most coveted tight ends started on the basketball court.

Henry, then a ninth-grade offensive tackle, was playing for Little Rock (Ark.) Pulaski Academy with football coach Kevin Kelly in attendance.

"I saw him moving around on the basketball court and realized that he would make a great wide receiver," Kelly said.

After Henry spent a little time at wide receiver, it became obvious his real home was at tight end. Now, the 6-foot-5, 235-pound Watch List member has double-digit offers.

Hunter Henry
Courtesy Sheldon SmithTE Hunter Henry has double-digit offers, including Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Stanford, Arkansas and Tennessee.
"He didn't know I could move like that until he saw me playing basketball. I gave it a try and was down with it," Henry said.

The following season, Henry became an offensive weapon, whether it was catching passes or blocking defenders. That's when his father, Mark, who played offensive tackle at Arkansas, discovered his son had a future in football.

"I didn't recognize just how good he could become until his sophomore year," Mark Henry said. "I saw him that season really step up his game. Hunter is a physical blocker who can run and catch so well. I realized then he was dominating and would get some looks. I just didn't realize the size and scope."

This past fall, Hunter Henry caught 64 passes for 1,093 yards and scored 16 touchdowns. Keep in mind that he rarely played in the second half because most of his games' outcomes were already decided.

"Offensively he's a nightmare to match up with," Kelly said. "You can't guard him. He has great feet and really knows how to use his body to shield defenders. He will go above people. He does it with ease and can run by people. He has the flare for the spectacular. He makes the impossible catches look easy."

There's not much Henry can't do. He can put his hand down and line up next to the tackle. He can be a flex tight end, H-back or receiver. He also lines up as a Wildcat quarterback and even plays a little running back. And when his team needs him, he can play a little defensive end.

"I am a modern-version tight end," Henry said. "I can play all the positions asked of a tight end. I have hands and can catch anything. I can go get the ball. I have ball skills. I also have good quickness and a burst. I can separate from people. I run good routes. I just need to keep working on my strength and speed and reading defenses."

Coaches noticed. Quickly. His first scholarship offer came from Auburn shortly after the Tigers won their national championship and Henry had just completed his sophomore season of football. Not long after that, Arkansas offered. Then came Georgia, Miami, Florida, Oklahoma, Stanford, Tennessee, Alabama and many more. In all, Henry has more than two dozen offers.

"Recruiting has been surreal to me," Henry said. "It's unreal when I think about and visualize it, to play college football. I am just trying to soak it all in. But I also know it's becoming a reality."

Henry has visited Arkansas, Oklahoma, Auburn, Florida, LSU, Tennessee, Ole Miss and Alabama. He went to Vanderbilt on Wednesday and Tennessee on Thursday, and plans to hit Georgia on Saturday and Alabama on Sunday. He will head west to check out Stanford in a couple of weeks.

Despite Mark Henry's ties to the in-state Razorbacks, he is making sure Hunter goes in with an open mind.

"What I have told him over and over is that it's his decision," Mark Henry said. "We want him to make the best decision for him. Pick the best environment. Evaluate all the schools and take a close look at each environment and pick the best place for you. Arkansas was that for me but it may not be the best for him.

"Recruiting is a tremendous opportunity, and very few have that opportunity. Humility is very important. It's very easy to start thinking highly of yourself. This is a unique blessing. Enjoy it. I try and help him understand that."

While Hunter Henry was obviously bothered by what happened with former Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino, the situation hasn't ruled out the Razorbacks.

"I will survey the situation and make my conclusion later," Henry said Tuesday. "I just know what happened was not a good thing and not a good representation of Arkansas. I am still interested in them. I grew up a fan of the Hogs. But I lived in Atlanta most of my life, and I always liked teams like Georgia, Florida, Auburn and Georgia Tech as well. I have always been an Arkansas fan, just not always around it."

It won't be an easy decision, but some team will inherit a prospect with upside both on and off the field.

"Hunter means a ton to this team. He's a leader for us," Kelly said. "More responsibility comes with that talent of his. He's good with the spotlight and he's such a great kid. Hunter is a person that always tries to please everyone, and he's so easy to work with."

Regardless of where Hunter Henry ends up, Mark is just soaking it in and enjoying every minute.

"I am real proud for a lot of reasons, the least of which is football," Mark Henry said. "I am so proud of him as a young man. Of course I am tickled to death of his success on the field. That just opens up so many opportunities for him."