Henderson will return for Terps

All-American decides against early NFL draft

January 11, 2002|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - All-American linebacker E.J. Henderson announced his intention to stay at Maryland yesterday afternoon, ending nearly two months of speculation regarding his early entry into the NFL draft.

"I am not ready to give up playing college ball or living the college life," said Henderson, considered by some to be the top linebacker in April's draft. "I enjoy being around teammates and look forward to returning for my senior year and the possibility that our team can build on what we accomplished this past year."

Henderson, 21, from Aberdeen, has a year of college eligibility remaining but is a senior academically. He said uncertainty about where he would be drafted and the Terps' 56-23 Orange Bowl loss to Florida figured into his decision.

Going from an unknown to a star in 2001, the 6-foot-2, 240-pound player became a finalist for most major national honors while helping Maryland to an unexpected 10-2 season and the school's first Atlantic Coast Conference championship in 16 years. He was a consensus All-American and named ACC Player of the Year after recording 150 tackles, including a school-record 28 hits behind the line of scrimmage.

"He's not going to run all that fast, but he's big," said Matthew Gambill of All-Pro Scouting Services, adding that Henderson's speed is more impressive on the field than in the 40-yard dash (4.7 seconds). "He can run like he does and he has a feel for the game."

Gambill and Gary Horton of The Sporting News' War Room figured Henderson to be taken within the first 20 selections; Horton projected him being taken ninth.

When the regular season ended in November, Henderson began consulting with Maryland head coach Ralph Friedgen.

Preparing for the Orange Bowl, Henderson had said he would leave with assurances of a first-round pick and, with it, a contract similar to the five-year, $8.75 million contract for the last year's only first-round linebacker, Miami's Dan Morgan.

Without that guarantee, Friedgen had said, it was wiser for Henderson to stay. Henderson said his calls to a few NFL executives and nearly 40 other early entrants gave him second thoughts.

"I wasn't hearing first round all around and didn't want to take that chance - you never know," said Henderson, who likely will take graduate classes if he completes his criminal justice degree as scheduled in May. "If people say second round and you don't work out good, that drops you to third round or fourth round ... "

And, Henderson wants to atone for his team's blowout loss in the Orange Bowl.

"I was thinking the whole week, `I don't want to go out like that,' " he said. "Not with that type of feeling. ... That was a big thing in my decision."

Gambill was skeptical that another year would boost Henderson's stock for 2003.

"It's not going to help any," Gambill said. "It could hurt him more because his weaknesses could be exposed. ... He would have been a sure first-round pick."

Said Friedgen in a statement: "I am certain that he will be able to fulfill all of his aspirations and dreams in regards to a career in the NFL. He is an outstanding player, and I look forward to having him around for one more year."

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