UM's Henderson gets big stage to make NFL case

Junior linebacker may be playing Terps finale

Maryland guard Wike out

Notebook

Orange Bowl

January 02, 2002|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

MIAMI -- For the first time in his college career, Maryland linebacker E.J. Henderson will perform in front of a national television network audience in tonight's Orange Bowl against Florida, giving viewers of every stripe an opportunity to see his talents.

"If I get a chance to shine, it shows that I can play, that it's not like I came from out of nowhere," said Henderson, an Aberdeen High alum who made 150 tackles this season -- including a school-record 25 behind the line of scrimmage -- to earn Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year and consensus All-America honors.

"If someone has a great game, playing against these quality athletes, then they're the real deal."

It might also be the last milestone in the amateur career of Henderson, a junior who likely will play in the NFL next season.

Said to be on schedule to graduate in May, there's little reason for the 6-foot-2, 243-pound linebacker to stick around except to improve his stock for the NFL draft.

"Just about all of my college dreams have come true except for a national championship and winning the Butkus Award [as the nation's top linebacker]," Henderson said. "Just about everything."

He has until Jan. 11 to declare his intentions for the draft and has not done so, but has hinted that he will leave.

Regarding a return to College Park for his senior season, Henderson said, "I'm not going to say you're hurting yourself, but if an opportunity presents itself, you've got to take it."

That opportunity would be becoming a first-round draft selection, which has been Henderson's only stated criteria for leaving the college game early, though he hasn't ruled out doing the same if he's projected as a second- or third-round pick.

He has applied to an NFL board that advises non-senior prospects on their chances in the draft. He also will lean some on the advice of his coach, Ralph Friedgen, who has suggested in the past that returning for his senior season wouldn't hurt.

"That's my backbone because he knows a lot of people in the league," Henderson said of Friedgen. "He'll be one of my main factors. I know he wants me back, but he has my best interests at heart."

Henderson runs well and has a good-enough nose for the ball, making it a relatively safe bet he will be drafted before the middle of the second round.

He said he hasn't made a decision, but his mother, Quinnette, reportedly said he has but just isn't saying.

Of being a possible first-round selection, Henderson said, "It'll be hard to say no. Anyone in their right mind wouldn't pass that up."

Wike won't play tonight

Maryland starting left guard Todd Wike isn't expected to play tonight.

Wike, a first-team All-ACC pick, hasn't recovered from a badly sprained right ankle. He is expected to be replaced by redshirt freshman Kyle Schmitt, who has played in every game but will be making his first start.

Some peace and quiet

Though Friedgen has been fine with the outpouring of support his team has gotten since coming to Miami, he said he intended to move the Terps to a more remote location yesterday.

The team's headquarters at the Fountainebleu Hilton Resort in Miami Beach is also where many Terps supporters are staying, and it is believed that the team would move to a quieter hotel.

"We're going to get away from the fans and all the hoopla and get into our routine," Friedgen said. "I want our team to be focused for 24 hours. I don't want any distractions. Players know to be to dinner on time or 15 minutes early."

The coach said much of his bowl preparations have come from his time as an assistant with Bobby Ross at Maryland, Georgia Tech and with the NFL's San Diego Chargers, then with George O'Leary at Georgia Tech again.

When he was here with the Chargers for Super Bowl XXIX, he remembers the same thing being done, while the team they lost to, the San Francisco 49ers, remained in the same hotel the whole time.

"I don't know which is right," Friedgen said. "I do know I want our kids away from all the distractions, because I know it's a real exciting time to be in Miami Beach."

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