Smyrna All-State QB Henderson looks to build on title year

Nolan Henderson speaks with Smyrna offensive coordinator Mike Marks before overtime of the 2015 Division I football state championship game. (Delaware State News file photo)

Nolan Henderson speaks with Smyrna offensive coordinator Mike Marks before overtime of the 2015 Division I football state championship game. (Delaware State News file photo)

SMYRNA — It’s 92 degrees, the heat index is 103 and the sun is beating down on the Smyrna High football field, where Nolan Henderson has been for the last two hours wearing nothing but a pair of white shorts with a football in his hand.

He’s thrown hundreds of passes and just completed the last one of his workout — a perfectly placed ball for a fade route in the corner of the end zone. Henderson decides to make one more throw, firing a bullet that pings off the underside of the yellow goalposts behind the end zone to signify he’s done.

The 6-foot-1, 170-pound rising senior at Smyrna High walks back into one of the adjoining locker rooms, turns on a fan and stands in front of it for five minutes until it’s cool enough to put a shirt back on. He then treks across a parking lot to an air-conditioned room in the high school to meet with offensive coordinator Mike Marks to debrief.

Henderson is an All-State quarterback who has already won a state championship and committed to play QB for the University of Delaware this past week. But he hasn’t peaked yet, and these workouts with Marks are for a reason.

“I think the ceiling still hasn’t been reached with him, which is kind of scary,” Marks said. “He’s accomplished so much and I’m still proud of the work he’s putting in on a day-in and day-out basis. It’s that work that’s going to get him there.

“I think everybody is clear on the fact that he can play. Where he goes from here is completely dependent on the amount of work he puts into it.”

This is the first summer where Henderson has devoted all of his attention to football. In the past, he had played baseball over the summer with travel teams and playing for American Legion League team Middletown Post-25 a year ago.

Henderson is also an All-State center fielder who, despite deciding he wants to play football in college, is still being recruiting by schools for baseball.

“I’ve always loved football more than I liked baseball,” Henderson said. “I’d much rather be playing football in the summer. I’m all in on football.”

No summer league baseball is just one of the differences in Henderson’s life nowadays.

His meteoric rise happened in conjunction with Smyrna’s transformation from Henlopen Conference doormat to state champion. He went from a relative unknown in Delaware high school football to one of its most recognizable faces.

Henderson was on the freshmen team in 2013 when Smyrna’s varsity slumped to a 2-8 season. As a sophomore, he made varsity but didn’t start the first game of the season.

It wasn’t until the second game of 2014 that Henderson was given the reins to the Eagles’ up-tempo, spread offense. Since then Smyrna is 17-5, including a combined 12-1 record in 2015.

“My life has changed drastically,” Henderson reflected. “I never thought about this. I never thought I would be in this position. But the hard work has paid off. A few times I just sat back and realized that we came a long way. It was amazing, the transformation in such a short period of time.”

Running that type of scheme in high school is why Marks is confident Henderson can succeed in college, given the influx of run-pass option offenses in college football. Henderson has been doing that for the past two seasons and will have another year of experience under his belt after his senior season.

“The craze across college football is the ability for the quarterback to be able to run and throw efficiently and effectively,” Marks said. “And not many people know what Nolan does for us on a play-in, play-out basis in terms of our alignments and getting us in the right call. He does more than any quarterback that I can think of at this level and I’ve been around some pretty good ones. From a football IQ standpoint, he’s head and shoulders above all of them.

“This is a scheme that not everybody can run,” Marks added. “We’re able to do it because of him. He owns it. … His instincts and IQ will always prevail in any offense that he runs. I’m thrilled with his progress and think he’s poised to do even better things than he did last year. Which again, is kind of scary.”

Henderson knows this season won’t be easy for Smyrna.

The Eagles are no longer the upstart with the high-powered offense, they’re the team everyone is prepared for and wants to knock off.

“We’ve got to stay true to what got us here,” Henderson said. “Nothing is going to be given to us. We’re really going to have to earn it now because we’ll be every team’s Super Bowl. It’s not last year, it’s a new year with a new team and we have to earn it again.”

Smyrna will have to replace its top four wide receivers from the state championship team and most of its offensive line. Henderson said he wants to spend the summer trying to build a chemistry with the younger receivers and fixing up his fundamentals.

Not only did his workout include the nearly two-hour throwing session, Henderson spend an hour doing a speed workout and an hour in the weight room.

But he still has time to be a typical high school senior, revealing his plans for the rest of the afternoon to escape the heat and humidity as he stands up from the table with Marks.

“I’m actually going to the beach right now,” he says.

Reach staff writer Tim Mastro at tmastro@newszap.com

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.