Smyrna QB Henderson earns Offensive Player of the Year honors

Smyrna’s quarterback Nolan Henderson during the Division l state finals against Middletown. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

SMYRNA — Nolan Henderson will be remembered for a long time in Smyrna.

As one of the keys in Smyrna High’s rise to back-to-back Division I football state championships, the senior quarterback has carved out quite a legacy.

“He’s a legend in that town,” said Smyrna coach Mike Judy. “When we’re all old men, we’re going to be talking about him. People will realize he was one of the guys that made us go on this run that we’re on.”

Henderson added another accolade this past week when he was named Delaware’s high school Offensive Player of the Year. The honor comes on the heels of Smyrna’s 36-14 victory over Middletown High last Saturday for the Eagles’ second straight state title.

Henderson, a three-year starter, was at the front of Smyrna’s transformation. He was on the freshman team in 2013 when Smyrna’s varsity squad went 2-8.

His first season on varsity was Judy’s first as coach. As a sophomore quarterback, Henderson guided Smyrna to a 5-5 year as the Eagles showed signs of being a contender.

What followed in 2015 and 2016 were two Henlopen Conference Northern Division titles, two state championships and a combined record of 24-1.

“We knew we had talent but we knew it would take a lot of hard work,” Henderson said. “Jerren (Carter, an All-State offensive lineman) and I took that leadership role as freshmen to try to turn things around. Just through all the hard work, and the coaching change, it really allowed us to improve and get to where we wanted to be.”

Henderson committed to play football for the University of Delaware prior to the start of his senior season.

This is also the second straight year Henderson was selected to the All-State First Team.

As crazy as it may seem, Henderson wasn’t even on the All-Henlopen North First Team last year, putting him in the unique position of making the All-State First Team but not his own conference.

Henderson said he took that slight from the Henlopen North coaches as motivation for his senior year. He finished this season with 2,317 passing yards and 32 passing touchdowns.

“I definitely looked at that a lot when I was working and I think it brought out the best in me,” Henderson said. “I’ve always been doubted from a young age. For that, it kind of hurt a little bit because I wanted to have that recognition. But in the end, I think it helped me.”

Smyrna junior running back Will Knight, the state’s reigning Offensive Player of the Year, also made the All-State First Team.

They were joined by Carter for the second year in a row, sophomore wide receiver Emon Roberts and junior running back/wide receiver Leddie Brown at kick returner.

Smyrna averaged 54.8 points per game in the regular season. According to opposing coaches, Henderson is the engine that drives the high-powered offense.

“He’s the X-factor,” said Salesianum coach Bill DiNardo. “They have so much talent on that field, but he’s the person that makes things go. He’s everything you want from a great quarterback.”

A large part of Henderson’s success, says Judy, was how studious he was in learning Smyrna’s spread offense.

There’s a lot on Henderson’s plate pre-snap. He makes all the reads at the line of scrimmage, directs the blocking scheme and has multiple plays he can check to. Once he snaps the ball, each play usually has two or three options and it’s up to Henderson to choose the right one.

“From day one as a sophomore he really took to learning the system,” Judy said. “He worked diligently to learn the offense and he was always a physically talented person. I think his ability to learn quickly and stay calm really allowed him to thrive.”

Henderson ended the year as Smyrna’s third-leading rusher behind Knight and Brown. He recorded three touchdowns on the ground and totaled 308 yards. He also caught one pass for a 27-yard touchdown in the regular season finale.

While that athletic ability will be hard to replace at quarterback, Judy said he’s going to miss Henderson’s leadership more than anything.
“Obviously he’s a great player but we’re going to miss his presence the most,” Judy said. “You’re so used to having this young man who is willing to do anything for his teammates, doesn’t care about stats, doesn’t care about anything but winning and being a great teammate.”

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