Being 40th pick rankles Terps' Henderson

Nfl Draft

Pro Football

April 27, 2003|By Christian Ewell and Ben Miller | Christian Ewell and Ben Miller,SUN STAFF

E.J. Henderson's disappointment at being left out of the first round of yesterday's NFL draft yielded to eagerness to prove the folly of teams who shunned him before the Minnesota Vikings took him with the 40th pick.

Henderson gathered with friends and family at the Iron House restaurant in Aberdeen, all of them expecting the two-time All-American from Maryland would go early in the first round. Instead, the frustration grew to where he and his parents adjourned to a separate room.

At the end, he put his best face on, as he'd been given an easy source of motivation.

"I've got a chance to come out and show everybody what it is all about and to prove to people that sometimes this draft is wrong," Henderson said.

Minnesota, coached by former Terrapin Mike Tice, hopes Henderson is right. Tice and the team's director of college scouting, Scott Studwell, said Henderson was the highest-rated inside linebacker on their draft board and thought he would be gone midway in the first round.

To what the Vikings saw as their great luck, there was a heavy run on defensive tackles, which increased their chances of drafting Henderson, a 6-foot-2, 250-pound linebacker.

"He was the top [middle] linebacker we had," said Tice, who envisions Tice as an understudy to veteran Greg Biekert. "He's a first-rounder on our board, and he went to Maryland. So for me, it's a trifecta, to have someone around to sing the Maryland fight song."

Henderson did cite familiarity as a plus of going to Minnesota. Former teammate Shaun Hill is a third-string quarterback there. Assistant coaches John Tice and Brian Baker also played at College Park.

And Terps coach Ralph Friedgen had been in the loop about Henderson with his former boss at Georgia Tech, George O'Leary, currently the Vikings' associate head coach.

"It's a good place for a Maryland guy to be," Friedgen said. "I know that they were excited about him. They had him rated between 13th and 19th in the draft. He fell, but that happens sometimes. I know he'll have a great NFL career."

In a sense, Henderson is back where he started, having to prove himself. Unheralded out of Aberdeen High School, he didn't start until the end of his second year at Maryland. In 2001, he earned Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year honors.

But subsequent back surgery and questions about his speed dropped his stock, which didn't sit well with him.

"It was hard seeing a lot of guys going off the board that I didn't know nothing about," Henderson said. " ... I feel like I was just a better player than a lot of those guys. But I feel like I have a lot of years to prove those guys wrong."

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