Henderson will return for Terps

All-American decides against early NFL draft

College Football

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-Americas and named ACC Player of the Year after recording 150 tackles, including a school-record 28 hits behind the line of scrimmage.

"He's the best recruit we'll have this year," joked defensive coordinator Gary Blackney said.

Henderson, 6 feet 2, 240 pounds, saw his profile rise along with his team's. By the middle of the regular season, he'd grown on pro scouts and draft analysts who liked his size and his ability to consistently get to the ball.

"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."

Before, and after the Terps' 56-33 loss to Florida in the Orange Bowl, Henderson was pegged as a first-round pick by people such as Gambill and Gary Horton of The Sporting News' War Room, both of whom had him going within the first 20 selections; Horton projected him being taking at No.9.

When the regular season ended in November, Henderson began consulting with Maryland head coach Ralph Friedgen said he would talk with his NFL contacts, and the two also applied to the league's advisory board, which assesses the prospects of underclassmen considering pro football.

As the Terrapins prepared for the Orange Bowl, Henderson said he would definitely leave with assurances of a first-round selection and with it, a contract similar to the five-year, $8.75 million contract for the only first-round linebacker in the 2001 draft, Miami's Dan Morgan.

Without that promise, Friedgen had said it was wiser for Henderson to stay and hopefully boost his stock for the 2003 draft. And while some thought Henderson was a lock for the first round, he 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 undergraduate work this spring. "If people say second round and you don't work out good, that drops you to third round or fourth round, and I didn't want to go out

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