By Bill Renje
LOVEJOY, Ga —
What goes unseen is usually more powerful than what we actually see on National Signing Day.
On the surface, we see the rewards of hard work and effort. We see a coming together of athletes, families, schools and communities to celebrate a high school athlete’s opportunity to compete and further their education at the next level.
What we don’t see on Signing Day is the key foundational elements that it takes to get to that moment.
At Lovejoy High School, the strong foundation is evident in the growth and maturation of three-star recruit Chris Henderson. Henderson, who officially committed to South Alabama Wednesday, headed up a list of 13 Wildcats who signed this morning to further their education and play football at the next level.
For Terry Henderson Sr, Chris’ father, Wednesday morning was the culmination of a plan five years in the making and he gives credit to the Lovejoy coaching staff for helping to make it happen.
Chris agreed and spoke about how Head Coach Ed Carson, Wildcat defensive coordinator Cory Johnson and assistant coach Tay Jones pushed him in the classroom, the weight room and on the field, with Henderson Sr. calling Carson “the glue.”
“(Carson) got this thing going in the right direction,” Henderson Sr. said. “(Former head) coach Hughes was instrumental as well with coach Carson becoming the glue between home, school and the field that held it all together.
“I turned my son over to him and said ‘He yours on the field. I won’t interfere and come on your field in the same way that you wouldn’t interfere and come into my home.’ (Carson) has been a great mentor and always accessible anytime I needed to talk to him.”
For Carson’s part, he credited the foundation of a supportive home environment for Chris’ success.
“Chris comes from a two-parent home,” said Carson. “His older brother (Terry Jr.) went here and played on the 2012 team that made the run to the state finals against Norcross. So the whole family has been a part of this program. Both his parents are very supportive, and you can see how it all paid off.”
That home support came in the way of a tag team effort from Chris’ parents. His mother made sure he was staying on top of his studies, while Henderson Sr. stayed on him athletically. Both put their combined energy and time into Chris’ development and future, while maintaining that he’s a student first, and an athlete second.
“(Signing day) was a long time coming,” said Henderson Sr. “He set this goal for himself in eighth grade. We devoted all of our time doing research, academically and athletically, on camps, combines, going on visits.”
That maturation and growth came to fruition with all the stress of the last several weeks. Chris focused in on his closest influences over the years – his family and coaches – as he contemplated his future and the brink of where the last five years had led him.
He had verbally committed last summer to Indiana University, but decided just in the last few days that he would officially pledge to the Jaguars’ program in Mobile, Ala. It was a decision that his parents gave him the necessary space to make on his own.
“I’m relieved that it’s all over now,” said Chris of the weight he felt. “Everybody was calling me with late offers and advice. It was a lot. It was a very hard decision (on whether or not to de-commit from Indiana). But I chose South Alabama because I felt I could play right away, have a bigger impact, and being closer to home was important.”
As for Carson, who cares more about the person than the player, this moment is the culmination for staying the course.
“(Signing day) shows that all the hard work and effort pays off,” Carson said. “It’s good to see the kids’ dreams continue of being able to play football and get their education.”