Commentary

Henderson now bowls over opponents

Updated: September 24, 2009, 6:14 PM ET
By Jon Mahoney | ESPNRISE.com

When Seantrel Henderson was on the freshman football team at Cretin-Derham Hall (St. Paul, Minn.), he didn't want to do anything to draw extra attention to himself. He'd already dealt with enough people staring at him in the school hallways because of his 6-foot-7, 300-pound frame.

So instead of flicking away defenders like they were fleas, the star offensive lineman did just enough to be successful, much to the chagrin of his coaches. For Henderson, it was simply a matter of wanting to fit in.

"A lot of people started looking at me different," says Henderson of his first few weeks of high school. "They hadn't seen a kid who was that big and was 14. I didn't want to seem like I was different or a bully."

But Henderson decided to get more physical once he began watching the varsity offensive linemen practice.

"I started to realize football is a contact sport and you have to start knocking people out," he says.

Since then, Henderson has been doing quite a bit of dominating. The senior standout has started every game at left tackle for Cretin-Derham since his sophomore year (freshmen aren't allowed to play varsity for the Raiders), allowing only one sack total and keying offensive attacks that have racked up more than 5,000 yards of offense each of the past two seasons.

Every major college football program has taken notice of Henderson, who now checks in at 6-foot-8 and 325 pounds and is rated the nation's No. 1 offensive lineman in the ESPNU 150. Minnesota was the first to offer him a scholarship when he was a freshman, and now you can add programs like USC, Florida, LSU, Oklahoma, Ohio State, Michigan, UCLA, Iowa and Notre Dame.

Big-time football recruits are nothing new at Cretin-Derham, which has produced the likes of Heisman Trophy winner Chris Weinke, All-Pro center Matt Birk, Denver Broncos offensive tackle Ryan Harris and Notre Dame rising star receiver Michael Floyd. And don't forget Twins All-Star catcher Joe Mauer, who was the Gatorade National Football Player of the Year his senior season at Cretin-Derham and committed to play quarterback at Florida State before giving up the sport in favor of baseball.

Yet Henderson's recruitment and the attention he's received have soared to another level.

"I never thought it would explode like this," says head football coach Mike Scanlan, who's in his fifth year at the helm and 24th overall at Cretin-Derham. "We've had some high-profile guys, but nothing has been like this before."

Of course, all the attention isn't surprising considering Henderson is the same height and only 10 pounds lighter than Vikings standout left tackle Bryant McKinnie. Scanlan jokes that Henderson is so big he blocks out the sun when he walks into the coach's office.

"I just want to be treated like any other person," Henderson says. "But I know that's tough right now with the position I'm in."

You see, other people don't have Henderson's uncanny combination of size, strength and speed. The athleticism he possesses can be attributed in part to playing basketball. Henderson is a standout forward for the Raiders and averaged a team-high 13.9 points per game as a junior. He even has a basketball scholarship offer from Marquette, and some of the schools who've offered him for football say he'll have an opportunity to walk on to the basketball team as well.

"If I know for a fact I can play both, I'm going to do it," Henderson says. "Football is my main sport right now and I will focus on that if [basketball] doesn't happen."

Though playing hoops has contributed to Henderson's athleticism, he credits Cretin-Derham's vaunted coaching staff for turning him into a skilled run blocker and pass protector who is ready to make an instant impact at the next level.

Former assistant Andy Bischoff played a big role in sending 18 Cretin-Derham offensive linemen to the Division I ranks before leaving to become an assistant coach with the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League after Henderson's sophomore year. Current offensive line coach Ray Hitchcock starred at center for Minnesota and played for the Washington Redskins. Additionally, tackles/tight ends coach John Alt was a two-time All-Pro left tackle in 13 seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs.

"It gives me an advantage over a lot of people," Henderson says. "When I get to college, I'm going to be doing a lot of drills I already do in high school." Henderson's position coaches have been equally impressed with their star pupil's abilities.

"He has the physical tools to take it wherever he wants," Alt says.

Right now, Henderson doesn't have much time to even think about what lies ahead. During the summer, he worked on improving his technique, lifted weights, played AAU basketball, took a ton of unofficial recruiting trips and worked part time at Home Depot unloading trucks.

"I like to keep busy," he says. "I don't like not having anything to do. It gets boring."

He's also focused on capturing the state title that's eluded him the past two seasons. The Raiders were upended by Eden Prairie, 50-21, in the Class AAAAA state championship during Henderson's sophomore year and were edged by Blaine, 28-27, in overtime of last year's state semifinals.

"We're already hungry," Henderson says. "I've got to get a state title for sure." Looks like Henderson is ready to take his dominant play to another level, even if it brings a little more attention his way.

Jon Mahoney is a football and baseball editor for ESPNHS. Email him at jon.mahoney@espn.com.