Fire inside captain Henry provides light for teammates

Anthony Maggio

The whistle blows, and organized chaos ensues. The football flies off the toe of the smallest player on the field, and his teammates sprint towards its destination. Bodies smash into each other at full-speed, like a collision between two convoys of semi-trucks.

This is the kickoff, Jimmy Henry’s favorite play.

“To me, it’s the one real play in football,” the Gophers senior linebacker said. “It’s all out. Your heart is on the line. Either you can lose or you can win. Nine times out of 10, I usually win.”

It should come as no surprise the kickoff is Henry’s favorite play, for his attitude about football, and life, is similar to how he approaches the opening play.

At first glance, the 6-foot, 200-pound linebacker might not seem imposing, but those around him know Henry is as tough as they come.

“He’s like the middleweight fighters, when people say pound-for-pound they’re the best fighters in boxing,” linebackers coach Greg Hudson said. “So pound-for-pound, he’s probably a guy I would have to say is the toughest out there.”

The 22-year-old Henry has earned respect from coaches and teammates alike through his hard work, and fearless attitude.

After redshirting in 1997, Henry has played in each of the past three seasons, including the Gophers’ two bowl games. Henry has started both games this season, after starting twice during his junior season.

More important to Henry, however, is his role as one of Minnesota’s four captains.

“(Being captain) means that my teammates as well as the coaching staff recognize my leadership abilities,” Henry said. “It’s just a tremendous honor that a group of guys would find you as their leader.”

His will to win serves him well on the field, and Henry says it helps him off the field as well, especially when it comes to his son, 5-year-old Jimmy.

“I’m very competitive,” Henry said. “That also carries over in my personal life as far as my son, being a father. I want him to do the best and have everything go right for him.”

Along with being a father, Henry sees himself as a big brother to his teammates. He said his job is to make sure his teammates remain motivated, and encouraging everyone to play within the system.

On a Gophers defense likely to start as many as three freshmen every game this season, Henry’s attention to detail is invaluable.

“That way we can all be on the same winning page,” Henry said.

Henry doesn’t speak loudly off the field, but then, he doesn’t use words to lead his team. He prefers to show his teammates what needs to be done.

“He is more of a leader by his actions,” Hudson said. “Guys see how hard he goes on every play. He’s not a guy that they’re going to listen to when he’s loud and vocal. They’re going to respond more to him with playing as hard as he does, running to the ball and being enthusiastic.”

Henry’s teammates hold him in the highest regard, as shown by Henry’s captain status. Fellow captain Jack Brewer sees Henry as a solid leader and one of the most intense athletes on the field.

“He’s a warrior, probably the toughest guy on our team,” Brewer said. “He’ll run through a wall. When he’s on the field he’s relentless. He’s a great leader both on and off the field, an emotional leader, and he keeps everybody up.”

Aware of his duties as a captain, Henry feels he will have failed if this year’s squad doesn’t make a third-straight bowl trip.

“(Not getting to a bowl game) would mean I’m not doing a good job out there, that I didn’t motivate (my team) in some type of way,” Henry said. “That would definitely be a letdown upon myself.”

Despite his intense focus on winning, Henry said he is having the most fun he’s ever had in football this season – a statement he credits to the coaching staff.

“(The coaches) are just a good group of guys,” Henry said. “They have fun. Everyday they are teaching me more. Basically, they’re helping me find myself along the way. For that, without a doubt, I’m very appreciative.”

The ball is caught, and the return man tries to find a hole in the mass of flying bodies. Suddenly, he’s knocked to the ground like he was hit by a semi-truck.

This is the kickoff, Jimmy Henry’s favorite play.

 

Anthony Maggio covers football and welcomes comments at [email protected]