Smyrna’s Henderson ready to be a leader for Hens

SMYRNA — To most people, it probably looks like an old swingset, with a tire attached by some netting.

But, to Nolan Henderson, the contraption might be a receiver on a crossing pattern.

Then there’s his dad, former Smyrna High baseball coach Mike Henderson.

At 6-foot-6, the elder Henderson can stand in for a college tight end — although his hands need some work.

“After the first time we had a catch, I cut his hands,” said Nolan. “I guess I was throwing it too hard to him. Since then, he’s been using these gardening gloves.

QB Nolan Henderson started six games but also missed most of three contests with injuries. Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell

“He runs around a little bit — as much as he can. But he’s always complaining about me throwing it hard. Sometimes I forget who I’m throwing to a little bit.”

That’s just way it goes when you’re a college quarterback trying to simulate some spring practice during a coronavirus pandemic.

With the Delaware starting QB job all to himself for the first time, this was going to be a big spring for Henderson.

But, even under the circumstances, the Smyrna High grad says this still is a big stretch for him and the Blue Hens.

Delaware had only gotten in the first day of spring ball in March before school was closed.

“I was most excited just to get back to football — just practicing and being with the guys,” said Henderson. “It was real exciting for me. I wanted to kind of step up into that leadership role.

“I can still do that, just not on the field. I’ve just had to — from a distance — try to hold people accountable and support everybody.”

Henderson, who will be a fourth-year junior in the fall, did start six games last season for Delaware. But he also shared the starting job early in the fall with senior Pat Kehoe.

Last fall, Henderson had just taken over the top spot on the depth chart when he missed a game and a half with a concussion. He came back only to miss the final two contests with something of a freak hip injury.

Early in a game against Stony Brook, Henderson was running the ball when he fell and landed on a player’s cleats. He eventually needed surgery on his hip.

The surgeon who worked on Henderson said he’d only seen that injury about three times in 10 years.

“They said it was such a weird injury — it basically just snapped the two muscles,” said Henderson. “They went back and attached it to the hip. After one week I was in real bad pain. But, two weeks after, it was almost boring doing PT because I felt so good.”

Henderson also missed the end of his sophomore season with an injury.

These days, though, he says he feels great.

Thanks to some home cooking, he’s up to 187 pounds on his 6-foot-1 frame. He thinks if he can get up to much as 195, he’ll be able to withstand some more tackles.

Of course, Henderson wants to be bigger and stronger without losing speed.

So far, so good.

“I feel great,” he said. “I feel as fast and explosive as I’ve ever been. The extra 10 or 15 pounds is just going to make me be able to take more hits and carry the ball this year.”

When he was healthy, Henderson was impressive. He threw nine touchdown passes against only one interception.

He also gained 331 rushing yards before netting 189 on 75 carries.
Of course, being stuck at home hasn’t stopped Henderson from being able to study game film.

For instance, he might look at 40 different times the Hens ran a particular play during the season.

“I can just see where the ball went to, where it could have gone,” said Henderson. “Coach (Jared) Ambrose has evaluation forms for us where we just evaluate every single play. That’s been real helpful.”

The Hens are also able to install new plays and study game film of their season-opening opponent, James Madison.

The one thing Henderson doesn’t want to do is simply let time go by without making some kind of progress.

He hopes the hard work, and some ingenuity by he and his teammates, will pay off when they start playing football again for real.

There’s a group chat text set up. Henderson said the players talk about different ways they’ve found for staying in shape.

Some of Delaware’s offensive linemen have also found uses for old swingsets.

“It’s been pretty funny but actually pretty neat to see all the creativity,” said Henderson. “I try to text in there every day because it’s easy to lose focus and lose track of what we’ve got to be doing. Staying in touch with those guys is pretty important.

“I feel like a lot of people around the country — in terms of athletics — are looking at this as a roadblock or a problem. … During this time, whoever can get the most work in, or can be the most creative, this is a time when we can close the gap on some other teams just by the way we work.”

Sports editor Andy Walter can be reached at 741-8227 or