Seantrel Henderson stood before several reporters Saturday at Greentree Field, apologizing for breaking an undisclosed team rule that resulted in his suspension last week for Georgia Tech.
It’s a scene that has been replayed more than once in his four years as a Miami Hurricane, but the soft-spoken, kindly disposed 6-8, 337-pound right tackle seemed eager to again wipe the slate and start anew as Game No. 6 against North Carolina (1-4, 0-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) stares him down.
“Kinda rough,” was how Henderson described the past couple of weeks. “I made a mistake as far as breaking the team rule. I let my teammates down. I let the coaching staff down, the university, by not being able to be out there. I apologize to my team and the coaches. I’m just ready to move on and get ready for UNC.”
The No. 13 Hurricanes (5-0, 1-0) have made an art form of crafting a patchwork line with several players competing at multiple positions. They did well without Henderson last week against the Yellow Jackets. But they would much rather do well with him.
“He has been contrite,” coach Al Golden said. “He knows what he needs to do to move forward. He’s been challenged, not just by me but by his peers. We’ve invested too much to go backwards on that.”
Golden said the mix-and-match line has been “a storyline for you guys, but for us it’s not. We look at it like a basketball team. You’ve got a sixth man, then you have a seventh guy, an eighth guy. They all come in and do certain things better than others, but they all play effectively together.”
Evidence: UM is ranked ninth of 123 FBS teams in sacks allowed, allowing just four in the past five games.
The Tar Heels have sacked the opposing quarterback only eight times – tied for 77th nationally.
Malcolm Bunche, who played left tackle last year and now is listed as the backup at left guard to Jon Feliciano — Feliciano started at right tackle against Georgia Tech — said the team wants Henderson to succeed.
“You’ve got to be tough with Seantrel,” Bunche said. “You’ve got to be constantly in his ear. We’ve all made bad decisions. We’ve all [screwed] up. But he just needs guidance, just needs his teammates.”
Bunche said Henderson’s fellow Canes need “to be in his ear telling him good things — what not to do, what to do, help him get better as a person. … We know with Seantrel he’s got to be out with good people, with his teammates.”
Brandon Linder, a senior who started all 12 games at right guard in 2012, is a prime example of how the Canes improvised without Henderson, then stuck with what they tried.
Linder played early last week at right guard, then switched to right tackle for most of the game. He was thrilled to get back to his high school position, despite allowing Miami’s lone sack when his “feet got all crossed up.
“It happens,” said Linder, listed as the first-team right tackle for the UNC game. “I was able to learn from it, so it’s good.”
Fifth-year senior Jared Wheeler, a career backup until he got his first start at center against Savannah State, started at left guard last week. He’s listed as the starter at right guard on the newest depth chart. His value, too, has skyrocketed.
Now all these linemen need is some stability with Henderson, who came to UM in 2010 as the USA Today Offensive Player of the Year while at Cretin-Derham Hall in St. Paul, Minn.
Henderson insists that he’s ready to thrive.
“Being suspended is a bad mistake that I made, but I bounced back. My teammates are there for me. My coaches are there for me. People around the university — still there for me.
“I feel like everybody knows I was suspended last week, so now everybody’s trying to see what Seantrel’s going to do, how Seantrel is going to play during UNC. It just motivates me. … I’m going to do everything I’m supposed to do.”
Braxton Berrios, a 5-9, 180-pound Under Armour All-American at Leesville Road High in Raleigh, N.C., orally committed to the Hurricanes on Saturday. The four-star athlete, who is expected to play slot receiver in college, chose the Canes over Tennessee, Kentucky, South Carolina and Oregon.