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Friday Night Football Feature: A Fox on double-duty
BY NATHAN WARTERS
Middle linebacker is often referred to as the quarterback of a defense, but it takes a unique high school athlete to actually start at both positions.
King George junior Corey Henderson was blessed with the toughness to play linebacker and the smarts and leadership capabilities to play quarterback. He plays both positions so well that attempts to limit his workload have failed.
The Foxes need the 6-foot-3, 235-pound Henderson at both to be successful.
“I know it’s unorthodox for a quarterback to play middle linebacker, but we decided the best way for us to be competitive was for him to play both,” said Robbie Henderson, Corey’s father and King George’s offensive coordinator.
The Foxes (8–2) qualified for the playoffs for the second consecutive season with Henderson leading the way. They host Grafton (4–6), from the Bay Rivers District, in the Region I, Division 4 quarterfinals tonight.
King George lost to Chancellor in the first round of the regional playoffs last year. The Foxes, who missed the postseason for nine straight seasons before 2011, are looking to take the next step against the Clippers tonight.
“If we get this win, I think it’s going to make people realize how good we can be,” Corey Henderson said.
King George is moving in the right direction. It is hosting a playoff game for the first time since 2001.
“That’s a big transformation, because there was a time when everybody wanted to schedule us for their homecoming game,” Foxes coach Jeff Smith said.
Henderson is critical to what King George does on offense and defense. His strengths and skills translate to both quarterback and middle linebacker, from his decision-making ability to his aggressiveness as a ball-handler and tackler.
“He runs the whole show. We don’t have to worry about any hiccups,” Smith said.
Henderson has received interest from several major Division I schools, including Virginia, Virginia Tech, Maryland and West Virginia, and some of his recruiters said they wanted to see him maximize his size at either tight end or H-back this season.
The Foxes’ coaches considered it—and they’ve used Henderson at tight end and H-back in limited goal line situations—but in the end they knew they were better off with Henderson running the show.
“I’m fine with it,” said Henderson, who notes that he feels linebacker is his natural position. “I’m just doing what I have to do for the team to be successful.”
Henderson was 11 when he first started playing quarterback in recreational league. None of the other quarterbacks showed up one day, so his coach moved him there.
Henderson came on strong as a high school quarterback at the end of last season, and this year he has completed 51 percent of his passes for 1,675 yards, 17 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He has also rushed for 175 yards and five touchdowns.
But his impact goes beyond his numbers. He is a field general in every sense of the word.
“We have like a zillion plays in our playbook, and he knows everything that goes on,” Smith said. “As he goes, we go.”
Henderson has a similar influence on defense with the way he makes his pre-snap reads and defensive calls.
His toughness shines through on defense, as well.
“At linebacker is where I think he’s most valuable,” Smith said. “Defense is where we need him 100 percent of the time because he clogs the middle. Anything up the middle, he pretty much handles.”
Henderson said the physical toll of playing linebacker sometimes affects him at quarterback, but not significantly.
He craves contact on defense, and his coaches wouldn’t dare ask him to change his aggressive style.
“Usually you tell your quarterbacks to get out of the way, trip him up or get out of the way,” Smith said with a chuckle.
Henderson has helped lead the King George defense to one of its best seasons in recent memory. The Foxes have allowed only 99 points this season, their lowest total in at least the last decade.
King George faces a Grafton team that has lost three of its last four games. The Clippers certainly have the Foxes attention, however. They are postseason mainstays and made it all the way to the Group AA, Division 4 semifinals last season.
King George is ready to take the next step to becoming a playoff regular like Grafton.
“I think once you get that playoff win, it gets you over that hurdle of just making it,” Smith said. “We’re taking it step by step every year. You get the confidence and hopefully, it becomes second nature.”
Nathan Warters: 540/374-5442