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He played in all 12 games last season as a reserve linebacker and special teams player, but now Kentucky sophomore Khalid Henderson is expecting more. “I know more about what to expect and what I can do,” said Henderson, who made 26 tackles in 2012.
He had five tackles against both Vanderbilt and Mississippi State when his playing time increased late last season. Here’s what Henderson had to say about how spring practice.
Question: How do you think practice has been going?
Henderson: “Things have been going good so far. Offseason looked real good and excited about spring football.”
Question: What did you work on the most in the offseason?
Henderson: “Just working on my size and explosion. I wanted to be more explosive this year and I wanted to have time to learn the defense. I am weighing about 225, which is about the same as last year. They didn’t really emphasize my weight gain. They felt I was good where I was at because of my body mass and wanted to keep me lean so I would keep my explosion and speed.”
Question: How is this system different from last year?
Henderson: “It is different as far as the snap point. It is simplistic, but it also multiple at the same time. To me, it is easy coming out of high school because we ran the same defense in high school. So that has made it easier for me.”
Question: Will there be more big plays out of you this year then?
Henderson: “Oh yeah. Lot more. The instincts are still very familiar in my head, so I feel like I will be a big playmaker this year.”
Question: Was defense last year too complicated that it prevented playmaking?
Henderson: “I think that is right. There was a lot of bad communication from the sideline to the field that left us all in a blur at times on the field. This year should be better. It is very simplistic.”
Question: How is defensive coordinator/linebacker coach D.J. Eliot different from Chuck Smith, your linebacker coach last year?
Henderson: “Coach Eliot is very vocal. He will let you know if you are doing it wrong and tell you. He always instills in us to keep going and looking ahead and try to stay ahead of the game and not look for mistakes and fix what you do wrong. Personality, off the field we don’t really talk football. On the field, he’s very vocal and he’s a leader and we follow behind him and say, ‘Yes sir, keep it moving.’”
Question: How much better are you now compared to when you arrived here last June?
Henderson: “I feel tremendously better. I feel better spiritually, emotionally, physically. I just feel an overall increase in my ability.”
Question: How hard is it to come to a Southeastern Conference program and absorb everything on and off the field?
Henderson: “It is very hard from the moment you wake up to the time you go to sleep. It is a grind every single day. The media stuff has not been bad. I did a lot of interviews in high school and spoke at a lot of social events, so that’s nothing new to me. I enjoy that part.”
Question: Could this team be a lot better than most are projecting?
Henderson: “A lot better. I know people are going to sleep on us, but that is what we want them to do. We are just going to keep working within ourselves and make us a better team.”
Question: Did you keep up with the players that signed and will be here this summer?
Henderson: “I did and I am glad for the progression. Our class was a good class coming in, so I look for even better in the next class. I am proud of what the guys (coaches) did recruiting-wise. I welcome the recruits with open arms and we are ready to take them in as soon as they get here.”
Question: Will the linebackers be better this season?
Henderson: “We are going to be a lot better. Everybody is getting the defense down, which is good. I just feel like we will be better on the depth chart from top to bottom.”
Question: Did you worry how things might work out when a coaching change was going to be made?
Henderson: “A little bit but I knew that was life and what I was coming into in the SEC. There are a lot of culture changes every year. You never know where you will be at the end of the day. That’s why I looked when I came here at what would be my surroundings and my team.”
Question: What does the current fan excitement about UK football mean to the players?
Henderson: “It just gives us a better push. We didn’t feel that during the season with how bad it went. It just gives us a better edge going into the season and get our minds right and focus on football. Playing in an empty stadium is not fun at all.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Could Kentucky really beat Tennessee twice in a row in football? Could it really happen in years when Kentucky football has not been that god?
Kentucky defensive coordinator Rick Minter says for that to happen, UK will have to slow down what he thinks might be the best offensive team that Kentucky has played this season. The Volunteers rank 13th nationally in passing offense,averaging 317.6 yards a game and are 23rd in total offense nationally with 477.6 yards per contest.
However, he says Kentucky’s players continue to prepare well and not be distracted by the firing of coach Joker Phillips two weeks ago.
“Kids are always bounce back, no matter what happens in life,” Minter said. “They are much more resilient than adults because they don’t think about it too much, they just do it. We will wish them well and pull for them always. Kentucky will always have a special place in your heart because whenever you work somewhere for a while you give it everything you have. Therefore when you leave, you leave some of yourself behind.”
Whoever the next Kentucky coach is, Minter said the future is bright with talented underclassmen on defense.
“All the kids on the back end that have played and contributed this year, some in a mighty role, others in a minor role, are all going to be good players,” Minter said. “You just mark it down — the Blaylocks (Daron and Zack) are going to be good players, the young corners all three of them (Cody Quinn, Fred Tiller, J.D. Harmon) are going to be good players, (Khalid) Henderson is going to be a good player, (Pancho) Thomas is going to be a good player. There are three defensive linemen that you have never seen because they are being redshirted but they are going to be good solid guys, whether it be (Patrick) Graffree, (Thomas) Chapman, (Langston) Newton.
“There are others, I don’t want to be remiss (in not mentioning them), but it is a bright future. How bright, who knows? But it is a much brighter future than it was a few years ago looking down the road of guys finally getting into this program.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
The more freshman linebacker Khalid Henderson plays, the better he seems to be.
He had a career-high five tackles last week against Mississippi State and now has 12 tackles in Kentucky’s six games as he gets set for Saturday’s Southeastern Conference matchup at Arkansas. He’s one of 14 true freshmen that UK is playing and appreciates the opportunity he’s getting.
“I am kind of glad for the opportunity the freshman class is having. I just feel like we are going to get better. I feel like it is a big plus,” said Henderson. “It gives us the opportunity to improve our talent and ultimately improve the team as a whole. It is a little frustrating at times not to be winning, but you just have to roll with the punches and take each day as another opportunity to get better. Every game you get another chance to get out there and get a W (win).”
Henderson shared these other thoughts about his play and the Kentucky program.
Question: Are you still learning the defense?
Henderson: “Coach Minter’s defense is very complex I might say. Every guy has the same job and you all have to know it. When it all comes together in one piece, it works. Certain calls are left to certain people, so everybody has to know their job and do it. If somebody messes up, that’s what comes with it.”
Question: Has any one player taken you under his wing and helped you a lot?
Henderson: “Really, the big reason why I cam here was (linebacker) Avery Williamson. He is kind of like my big brother and is my big brother when it comes to the team. (Bud) Dupree also has a big impact on me, too. We all bond together and work together. They help me improve and I help them, too. Young guys can help older guys.”
Question: Do you ever feel the deck is just stacked against this team having to play so many young players?
Henderson: “We are so young, we just don’t worry about it. I feel like it is better to have young guys in there. Fresh legs and creates a more growing process for them and helps the older guys get rest. That feels like it is better for the game. Keeping putting in new packages, new packages and get rest for older guys and keep fresh legs in the game.”
Question: But how do you avoid being frustrated with a 1-5 record?
Henderson: “I feel like in a sense like a father does. You know how a father has bad times and keeps rolling with them. Some bills might not get paid, but you work hard to get to the next one. You have to keep moving on. It eats away at you, but you have to take it and learn. We all have winning backgrounds in some sense. I have never been used to losing. I just wish we could turn the season around and I am waiting for it to happen.”
Question: Why was Williamson such a big influence for you?
Henderson: “It started with my recruiting. Some guys you just hit it off with at first. That’s how it was when I first came around Avery. I talked to the guy and we just kind of had a good flow about things. We talked to each other and I got a good vibe from him.”
Question: Is he the biggest reason you are at Kentucky?
Henderson: “I would have to say yes. He is making my game better. He keeps an eye on me. He keeps me working hard. He keeps me focused in the weight room and classroom as well. He is just helping me take in this process because I am expecting so much so soon. He is just helping me not being stressed out and working hard and moving on to the next game.”
Question: Do you stress out after losses?
Henderson: “Certainly you can get stressed out, but you just have to take that day or night when it happened and not let it suck the life from you and keep improving.”
Question: Have you learned things from the way Williamson helped recruit you that you can use with future recruits?
Henderson: “Of course. I want to say he is my role model. I learn from him based on his mistakes and improvements. He wasn’t a five-star, four-star recruit coming in. He’s just improving his game. He is looked at as the face of the defense right now.”
Question: Would you enjoy hosting recruits and selling UK to them and why would you tell them to come to Kentucky?
Henderson: “Of course. I love that. I am going to give you the God-honest truth. I am going to tell you some things you may want to hear, some things you may not want to hear. I am going to tell you the truth because I don’t want you to come to a place and be miserable for four years. I want you to enjoy your time here at the University of Kentucky and enjoy being around a family atmosphere and a great college.”
Question: Would you tell recruits they can win at Kentucky?
Henderson: “Of course you can win. You have to work, too. Your attributes are going to contribute to the team.”
Question: What might you tell a player that he might now want to hear?
Henderson: “You may not get your chance like you think you will or you may not be as talented as you think you are right now. You might have to keep working. You might have to sit out a year. You might have to do some extra things to improve your game. You might not like the atmosphere. You might not like being a student if this is your first time to really be a student.”
Question: Is the student part tougher than some realize?
Henderson: “It is lot tougher than I thought it would be. I worked hard in school and my mom made sure she was on me about having good grades, but when I came to college it was a different atmosphere. Anybody would tell you that you have to do your thing and I have enjoyed the people at CATS (academic center) who have helped me.”
By EVAN CRANE, UK Media Relations
Kentucky coach Joker Phillips continued to praise the efforts of three true freshman cornerbacks in J.D. Harmon, Fred Tiller and Cody Quinn. All three saw action last week against Florida and played aggressive, according to Phillips. The head coach said due to the injury of safety Ashely Lowery and the play of the young corners, senior defensive back Martavius Neloms, who had been playing corner, took snaps this week at safety to provide more depth there.
“You saw a lot of young guys in the back end challenging receivers and that is the thing that stood out to me last week,” Phillips said after Thursday’s practice. “Guys like Fred Tiller, Cody Quinn and J.D. Harmon were challenging guys and that is what you want to do. Being a defensive back, you are going to get beat, that is just a matter of when and where. The thing you have to do is win your share. And the thing I saw was that those guys more won than their share of opportunities.”
Phillips has been impressed with the play of UK’s youth this season overall, especially defensively, mentioning true freshman linebackers Khalid Henderson and Pancho Thomas and redshirt freshman defensive lineman Farrington Huguenin.
“At the second level, those two young freshman linebackers (Henderson and Thomas) made some plays for us and will continue to get better,” Phillips said. “Farrington Huguenin is a freshman also that continues to get better. The thing we have to do is keep improving as much as we possibly can. That is the ideal of us getting a chance to play again this weekend to see how much we have improved each week and see how much we can improve this week especially with a young team.”
Phillips said he understands that as Kentucky improves so do the teams that make up the final eight games on the schedule. But Phillips said that thought has to be removed and the team needs to worry just about getting Kentucky better.
“This is a grown man’s league and we can improve but everybody else is improving, too, with some older guys,” Phillips said. “The thing we have to do is continue to see how much we can improve and get this football team better. They are trying to do the same thing and we have to try to match them.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Freshman linebackers Khalid Henderson and Pancho Thomas wanted to believe they were good enough to play as true freshmen this season. Now they know they are indeed good enough to help Kentucky as the Wildcats get set to host Western Kentucky Saturday night.
“I didn’t really believe it, but now I do. Now I get to play next to my good friend. Me and Khalid have got really close in fall camp and now we are together on the field. It is going to be lovely on the field the next two years,” said Thomas, who tweaked a hamstring in last week’s win over Kent State but returned to the game.
“I enjoyed getting to play a lot. I feel it did help a lot to see the younger players get in and enjoy ourselves and get to make plays. It sparked the team a little bit,” Henderson said. “We are a lot more comfortable now that we have got to play. We got our chance and me and Pancho are ready to play. That last game shows the coaches have more trust in me with the schemes.
“I feel playing time is more available to me now. Getting to play helps a lot. The only way to do it is get in there and do it, so I hope this showed the coaches a lot. I am ready for the next game already and was as soon as Kent State ended. I learned and now I am ready for the next opportunity. I will go twice as hard as I have been every day now because I know I can play.”
Henderson already has three tackles in limited playing time and Thomas has two.
Kentucky coach Joker Phillips said Thomas impressed him with the way he changed his attitude on game day.
“Physical guy. He’s a box player. He’s not a guy that’s going to be out in space. The guy really loves to play the game,” Phillips said. “Again, he was one of those guys I saw that the closer we got to the game, he changed. His demeanor changed. His attitude changed.”
Thomas isn’t satisfied with how he played.
“I felt like I did pretty good. I could have did a lot better, but it was my first time and I had first-game jitters, but it felt good and I had fun,” the Florida native said. “I feel like I could do a heck of a lot more. I feel like I could do a lot of good things this year.”
Henderson said linebackers coach Chuck Smith “just basically gave us the absolute truth that we needed to step up” going into the Kent State game based on the way the defense had played against Louisville.
“Myself I played well but I have al ot of improvements to do. I am just ready to get out there, have fun and take the opportunities to play when they come,” Henderson said. “It is all about attitude. You have to give it the best you have got. You can’t let nobody scare you or let your opponent get in your heart or they will take it out of you.
“I feel the first game was a big embarrassment to us. It shocked a lot of our eyes and kind of put us on the back burner, but we came back and had a good week of practice working our butts off and it showed. That’s what we have to do every week.”
Thomas says both he and Henderson have a “nose for the ball and how to get there” and don’t let mistakes impact them.
“We just have to forget it about, learn from our mistakes the next day in film and we just know if we mess up we have to go 100 percent. You can’t dwell on mistakes in games,” Thomas said. “We just made a couple of mistakes (against Kent State) that we have to make up and clean up where we messed up.”
Thomas says nothing inspires him more than to see UK’s offense click the way it did the second half against Kent State. However, he’s just as optimistic about what he’s seen from a defense that has already played six true freshmen.
“I am very excited about the future. Actually a lot of us thought we would not come in and do this many things during the summer when we were doing summer workouts. But now that we have got to know the other guys and know where everybody wants to be, we are convinced that we can do something special here,” Thomas said.
Henderson said UK’s win over Kent State and then No. 8 Arkansas losing to Louisiana-Monroe on the same night shows how quickly perceptions can change about a team or season.
“It is funny how things change, but that is the excitement of college football,” Henderson said. “Losing to Louisville was just a shock to us, but we learned and handled it well.”
By ASHLEY SCOBY
For the rest of the football offseason, I’m going to be doing some previews here on Vaughtsviews.com for the UK football season – incoming players, position battles, etc. Want to learn more about a particular signee or want a preview of the long snappers next year? Shoot me an email with any ideas/suggestions at email@example.com or tweet me @AshleyScoby. Until then…
I am excited for Khalid Henderson. I’m excited about all the Kentucky recruits, but perhaps none more so than Henderson.
Maybe it’s because I’m a defense-first football fan, and Henderson is a linebacker. Maybe it’s because he’s been compared to Danny Trevathan by several football writers. And maybe it’s because he backed out of coming to Tennessee in favor of the Cats. Either way, you have a few reasons to be excited about this guy too:
The recruitment numbers: Rated as a 4-star player, Henderson was the No. 17 overall recruit in his home state of Georgia. Not to mention ESPN ranked him as the No. 19 outside linebacker in the country. He was also ranked as a three-star by 24/7 Sports, Scout.com and Rivals.com
The production numbers: During his senior year, Henderson came up with 74 tackles and snagged two interceptions. He also runs a 4.57 40-yard dash – that’s some serious speed to have on the defensive side of the ball. On the field, he can fly, and those instincts will take him far in his role as a linebacker.
Fitting in with the system: A guy who can fly around like Henderson is perfect for Rick Minter’s defensive scheme, which emphasizes speed, as well as guys who can both tackle and drop back in coverage. The 6’1, 200-pound Henderson fits the bill tremendously. He’s a bona fide linebacker – no doubt about that – but with his speed, Henderson will be able to fit into Minter’s system.
Potential for early production: While Henderson will have to learn Minter’s scheme just like any offensive player has to learn the playbook heading into camp, look for the linebacker to produce early. With Trevathan graduating last year, there is an enormous spot on the field to fill. Maybe it won’t be Henderson this year, but it will be one day. Look for Henderson to see the field early on in his career – if not at linebacker, at least on special teams. That 4.57 time and the ability to hit is how many players get their starts in the SEC.
The hype: Besides possibly Patrick Towles, Henderson may be the most hyped up player in this year’s recruiting class. Obviously, with Towles being a quarterback and being from Kentucky, he’s going to overshadow anyone else. But Henderson might have been the most talked about guy in Lexington on National Signing Day, and rightfully so. The original Tennessee commit opened his recruitment back up, and ended up faxing Joker his letter of intent the morning of Signing Day. Talk about recruitment drama. Had that been a run-of-the-mill one- or two-star lineman, would Kentucky fans have been so excited about it? Probably not.
But a four-star linebacker who had pictures circulating on the Internet of himself in a Danny Trevathan jersey?
Yeah, that’s something to get hyped up about.
By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky linebacker coach Chuck Smith on two of his freshmen players and also opening the season Sept. 2 at Louisville.
Question: Do true freshman Khalid Henderson or Kadeem Thomas have a chance to play this year in some role like Wesley Woodyard, Micah Johnson, Danny Trevathan and Braxton Kelley all did?
Smith: “Yes, but I think Henderson probably especially. Pancho (Thomas) I think is nursing some injuries, but I think Khalid has a chance. I have not got to see them much this summer, but just based on what I know and what I have heard through the strength coaches, he could have a chance.”
Question: What did you like about Henderson when he was being recruited?
Smith: “Just his explosiveness more than anything. His desire, his effort to play hard. Besides the fact that he has skills. He can run, he can strike. He has got great instincts. He has a chance to be a really good player.”
Question: How good offensively is Louisville going to be?
Smith: “They are a good football team, a very nice team. They have a lot of players back from last year. The quarterback is going to be even more experienced and he was pretty good last year. They are going to be a tough opening game for us.”
Question: Do you like opening with Louisville or do you prefer the years when it is the third game of the season?
Smith: “Honestly I don’t really care that much whether it is the first game or not. There will be a lot of hype around it being the first game, but both teams plenty of time to prepare. We will just have to wait and see.”