Out to show what's in his name, too

Football: Aberdeen's Erin Henderson, younger brother of ex-Terps star E.J., is focused on his own game and identity.

High Schools

November 11, 2003|By Jeff Zrebiec | Jeff Zrebiec,SUN STAFF

Aberdeen quarterback and linebacker Erin Henderson has the size, has the numbers, has the record, even has a big-time scholarship - but that's not enough for some people.

He hears opponents downgrade his skills, say he's unfairly grabbed the spotlight and tell him he'll never measure up to his NFL linebacker brother.

But Henderson has turned their taunts into motivation and that motivation into victory.

"This season has meant a lot," Henderson said. "A lot of people say I only get things because E.J. did what he did, but now, I have a chance to show everybody I'm my own person and I do what I do. Hopefully, my numbers show that."

The mocking "E.J." chants, a reference to the former All-American at the University of Maryland who is now with the Minnesota Vikings, are diminishing.

But Henderson still hears plenty of other taunts.

"Against C. Milton Wright, I was saying something to the ref and one of their players said, `Look at Mr. Maryland crying,' " recalled Henderson, 17, who orally committed to Maryland in August. "I hear a lot of that stuff, but I don't take it personal."

Unless, people call him "Little E." That's where he draws the line.

"He's hated that since he was a freshman in high school," said E.J. Henderson, who is six years older than Erin. "He told me that he was going to make a name for himself and I think he's succeeded. Now, he's `Big E,' I guess."

"Big E" indeed.

With Henderson playing a starring role, the 10th-ranked Eagles are 8-1, matching their combined win total from the past two seasons. A 37-9 victory over Havre de Grace on Friday gave the Eagles a share of the Harford County title with the Warriors. Aberdeen will begin its quest for a Class 2A state crown when it faces rival Edgewood in the first round of the playoffs Friday.

Finally free from the ankle problems that have dogged him the past two seasons, Henderson, at 6 feet 4, 225 pounds, has done a little of everything, throwing for 1,186 yards and 11 touchdowns (only three interceptions on 97 attempts), rushing for 687 yards and six touchdowns and leading the Eagles' defense with 113 tackles.

"He is the real deal," said Havre de Grace coach Johnny Brooks, whose team surrendered 215 passing yards and four touchdowns to Henderson last Friday. "He showed touch, he put heat on the ball and when he ran, we couldn't tackle him. He's progressed really well."

Said Aberdeen senior wide receiver Phillip Brown: "He is running our offense a lot better, his accuracy has improved, his drops have been better. He's just improved all around."

Eagles coach Joe Harbert said Henderson's motivation has improved his performance.

"He's seen a lot of things here and I think he's grown up and matured," Harbert said. "When people count him out, he plays even better. That's his ticket right there. He tries even harder to prove he deserves a shot to play whatever position that they're going to play him in college."

Henderson, seeking to avoid more comparisons to his big brother, figured College Park would be the last place he'd end up.

"I told E.J. that I would never be a Terp, but he told me that I needed to look out for myself," said Henderson, who talks to his brother nearly every day. "I'm sure I will hear that I'm following my brother, but they're doing a lot down there. It's something I really want to be a part of."

Recruited by several top-tier schools, Henderson originally made Virginia his first choice, but that changed when he was told he was wanted in Charlottesville as a linebacker. Henderson says he loves making hits and playing defense, but his heart is at quarterback.

Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen has promised Henderson a shot at quarterback, a chance no other top Division I school would give him.

Henderson, who has been told at camps to work on his footwork and his mechanics, said he was swayed when Friedgen told him about two of his former quarterback recruits at Georgia Tech.

Joey Hamilton and Shawn Jones both arrived in Atlanta heralded more for their athleticism than their quarterback skills, but they had standout careers at quarterback. Jones led the Yellow Jackets to a national championship and Hamilton finished second in Heisman Trophy balloting.

"I don't know if [Erin's] a quarterback, but I think he's a really good athlete," said Max Emfinger, a national recruiting analyst from Louisiana. "They [Maryland] probably took him as an athlete."

Henderson, who runs track and plays basketball at Aberdeen, is fine with being known more for his athleticism - he runs a 4.65 40-yard dash and bench-presses 300 pounds. However, he's clearly tired of hearing that he won't succeed leading an offense.

"I don't understand why people are saying I'm not good enough to be a QB," said Henderson, who went to four quarterback camps this summer, including one at Maryland where he worked with Terps offensive coordinator and quarterback coach Charlie Taaffe. "What is it I'm not doing that's not good enough?

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