Henderson makes the jump: D-II MNSU to Big Ten starter

Kyle Henderson joined the Gophers as a walk-on in 2009 and has earned a starting cornerback job.

Samuel Gordon

Minneapolis native Kyle Henderson dreamed of playing football at the University of Minnesota when he was younger.
After his high school career, which by his own admission wasnâÄôt as successful as he would have liked, it looked like he would never get that chance.
Fast forward four years, and he is a starting cornerback for the Gophers.
Henderson attended Robbinsdale Armstrong High School and was an all-conference selection on the gridiron. But it was track and field that was his gateway to college athletics.
In 2007, his senior year, Henderson advanced to the Minnesota State High School Track and Field Championships in three different events and was part of the state champion 4×200-meter relay.
His accomplishments didnâÄôt go unnoticed, and Division II Minnesota State University offered Henderson a track scholarship.
He ran track and played football for two years with the Mustangs, but ultimately decided to leave Mankato after the 2009 outdoor track season to attempt to walk on with the Gophers.
âÄúI love football anywhere you can play, I really do,âÄù Henderson said. âÄúBut I just decided after driving past the stadium being built, day in and day out, that I really wanted to play [at Minnesota].âÄù
HendersonâÄôs decision to leave the program for his Division I aspirations was met with some questions by his former coaching staff.
âÄúObviously we didnâÄôt want him to leave,âÄù Minnesota State head coach Todd Hoffner said. âÄúYou obviously try and talk a young man out of making a decision to leave your program.
âÄúHis heart was set out on trying to make it, and he was willing to sit out a year and we explained all that stuff to him, so he took advantage of the opportunity.âÄù
Henderson prepared a highlights tape and met with Minnesota assistant recruiting coordinator Josh Sternquist. A few hours after the meeting, he was awarded a roster spot.
âÄúI basically had to come and say, âÄòI got accepted to the University and now I want to play football,âÄô and they let me on the team and they let me prove myself,âÄù he said.
Per NCAA transfer rules, Henderson had to sit out the entire 2009 campaign. He said he used the redshirt year as a chance to improve and familiarize himself with football at the Division I level.
âÄúI really wanted to make sure I focused on my technique. I ended up actually playing offense for the scout team, but once I was able to get back on the defensive side I really just worked on my technique,âÄù Henderson said. âÄúI just practiced and did a lot of stuff on my own time.âÄù
By 2010, he was a regular in the defensive backfield and he appeared in all 12 games, making two starts.
Despite HendersonâÄôs increased playing time and contributions, he still didnâÄôt have a football scholarship.
Then Jerry Kill and his staff took over the program in December.
Henderson said Kill told him during spring practices that if he worked hard, he would have a chance to earn a scholarship.
âÄúI definitely made sure I did that,âÄù Henderson said. âÄúI went to work in school. I went to work on the field in the offseason.âÄù
The day before school started this year, Kill called Henderson and told him that he would be on scholarship for the 2011 season.
Starting cornerback Troy Stoudermire suffered a season-ending wrist injury at the end of September, and Henderson was thrust into a starting role.
He has made the most of his opportunity and made perhaps the biggest play of his career in SaturdayâÄôs win over Iowa.
In the third quarter with Minnesota trailing by a touchdown, he sacked Hawkeyes quarterback James Vandenberg and forced a fumble that the Gophers recovered.
The play sent the home crowd into a frenzy and helped spark a second-half comeback that eventually resulted in MinnesotaâÄôs second win of the season.
âÄúKyle is an amazing story,âÄù Kill said. âÄúHeâÄôs bought into: Nothing in life is fair. There are bigger, stronger, faster people in the world, but if you play hard, youâÄôve got a chance.âÄù
Henderson said that he still strives to improve and plays with a chip on his shoulder that stems from his high school days.
âÄúNobody told me that IâÄôd be able to do anything, and I really had to prove it to myself,âÄù he said. âÄúI knew the opportunity was going to come and I had to seize it.âÄù