When Seantrel Henderson decided he was taking his talents to the University of Miami instead of staying at USC in 2010, most figured the Hurricanes had their starting left tackle position set for years to come.
It certainly hasn’t panned out that way for the former No. 1 high school offensive tackle in the nation.
But Saturday — after a rough fall camp and an injury-plagued sophomore season — the 6-8, 340-pound junior took a huge step forward on the comeback trail in UM’s 38-10 victory over Bethune-Cookman, seeing his most action since returning last week at Kansas State. He even got in for a series at left tackle, which surprised him and his teammates.
“I didn’t think [offensive line] coach [Art] Kehoe was going to do that,” said Henderson, who replaced Malcolm Bunche at left tackle on the nine-play, 50-yard scoring drive that put the Canes up 14-7 with 5:48 to play in the first half.
“When he said it I was like, ‘What?’ Then I said, ‘OK, let’s get it.’ My hip felt fine. I thought it was going to be bad, and I was going to have a couple bad plays, a couple mental errors. It ended up being fine, and I just went on like I was on the right side.”
Henderson missed nearly all of fall camp with off-the-field issues. On Aug.1, he was involved in a car accident that ejected a 5-year-old Homestead girl from her mother’s van. The girl escaped with only a gash to her forehead. Henderson sustained a concussion. He also returned home to Minnesota at least once to attend the funeral of a family member and then a friend.
Henderson, who started nine games during his freshman All-American season at right tackle before back surgery limited him to two starts and just eight games a year ago, said he hadn’t even practiced at left tackle this season. In fact, it was the first time he played left tackle since getting in there for a few series as a freshman.
“I got a little nervous to be honest, because I hadn’t played left tackle since my surgery,” Henderson said. “But once I got out there I got the hang of it and felt good playing left tackle for a drive.”
Henderson estimated that he got in for about 35 to 40 plays Saturday — most of them at right tackle — and thought he “played a pretty good game.”
“I was productive; I was on point with my blocks,” he said. “The offensive line communicated great as a whole, so that made us come back even stronger in the second half.”
UM, which gave up five sacks last week, didn’t allow any sacks Saturday. But UM coach Al Golden noted that Bethune-Cookman was able to create some pressure on the edges early in the game. The Wildcats produced three quarterback hurries in all.
“I asked him how he felt as soon as we got into the locker room, and he smiled,” Golden said. “He’s starting to get to the point where he can compete more, and hopefully we get to the point where we can use more offensive linemen. … It looked like he held up in conditioning. We’ll see more on the film.”
Henderson hasn’t started for UM since Nov. 19 at South Florida. So far, UM has started Bunche at left tackle and freshman Ereck Flowers at right tackle in all three games.
“I wouldn’t say [starting] matters a lot, but being a football player everybody wants to start,” Henderson said. “So of course it matters a little bit, but I wouldn’t say that’s my main thing because I’m a team player.”
Quarterback Stephen Morris admitted he was surprised to see Henderson at left tackle Saturday, but he said he never doubted him. Morris said UM’s offense needs Henderson to contribute.
“He just helps so much. He brings so much energy on the line,” Morris said. “He’s really good at communicating. He knows his blocks very well. He’s very physical. Once he gets his hands on you, it’s a done deal for that defensive player. We want to keep him that way and make sure he’s always doing the right things for us.”