So disgusted with his play in a three-way preseason scrimmage against West Ouachita and Carroll, Richwood junior wide receiver/defensive back Calvin “CJ” Henderson Jr. asked to be removed from the starting lineup.
“CJ told me after the scrimmage, ‘Don’t start me. I don’t deserve to be a starter,’” first-year Richwood head coach Marcus Yanez said.
While Yanez appreciated Henderson for holding himself accountable, he didn’t buy into the overly-critical self analysis.
“I just told him he was better than he played in the scrimmage and encouraged him to stick with it,” Yanez recalled.
Fortunately for the Rams, Yanez maintained the final say on the starting lineup for Friday night’s game against Shreveport Woodlawn. With Henderson picking off three passes at safety in addition to starting at wide receiver, Richwood won its season opener 26-14.
“CJ played well tonight,” Yanez understated.
Henderson actually got back into his own good graces in a 20-12 jamboree loss to Wossman two weeks ago. Counting his interception against the Wildcats, Henderson has four picks the past two weeks. As Yanez expected, Henderson’s play in the scrimmage was an aberration.
“CJ has had two pretty good games the last two weeks,” Yanez said. “There’s a reason he’s getting offers as a junior.”
Listed at 6-foot-3, 170 pounds, Henderson has an offer from Texas Southern, with numerous other schools showing interest.
Against Woodlawn, Henderson’s first pick was arguably the decisive play of the game. Trying to cut into the Rams’ 20-6 lead, the Knights lined up at the Richwood 27 on the final play of the first half. Reading the play perfectly, Henderson’s 86-yard interception return extended the difference to 26-6 at the break.
“I realized it was the last play of the half and I couldn’t let my man get behind me,” Henderson said. “I was on No. 1 (Brian Stewart), who is a great athlete. He ran a post route, I caught the ball, and it was a pick-6. I’m grateful to my teammates for the downfield blocking, and to God.”
Henderson’s second pick ended on a horrific note.
With the Knights facing third-and-13 from the plus-40 late in the third quarter, Henderson and wide receiver Tyrique Taylor went up for a pass near the 25. With the two athletes jockeying for position in mid-air, Henderson came down with the interception as Taylor collapsed to the turf with an apparent broken leg. Realizing the injury was serious, a Woodlawn coach instantly charged the field and signaled for paramedics. Eventually the field was cleared and Taylor was airlifted from the stadium.
“We were both going for the ball. There was some contact, but it wasn’t anything out of the ordinary,” Henderson said. “They said he just had a bad landing. I pray for him to have a speedy recovery.”
Henderson’s third takeaway was less eventful than the previous two.
Trailing 26-14 with slightly under six minutes to play, the Knights had no choice but to attempt and convert on fourth-and-five from the minus-46. It was a tailor-made opportunity for Henderson to wear the turnover chain for the third time of the evening.
Henderson focused almost exclusively on offense during the preseason with the understanding that he would eventually be worked into the defense. Those plans were put on speed dial when starting free safety Jamarion Young missed the season opener with an injury.
“We had CJ down as starter, but we didn’t want to wear him out before we got into district,” Richwood secondary coach Robert Hunter said. “Young’s a good kid, too, and we wanted to give him some reps.”
Young’s projected return for Friday night’s game against Ouachita creates options for the Rams in the secondary. But leaving Henderson on offense is no longer a consideration.
“Obviously, CJ’s off to a pretty terrific start,” Hunter said. “He’s not going anywhere.”
Hunter believes Henderson’s future is on the defensive side of the ball.
“He’s a good kid with good grades, plus he’s humble,” Hunter said. “I think, one day, he’s going to be an outstanding college defensive back.”
Henderson is beginning to sound like he feels more at home in the secondary than at wide receiver where he earned first-team All-District 2-3A accolades last season.
“I like it a lot,” Henderson said. “You get to catch the ball at wide receiver, but wide receivers are always getting hit. Playing defense, I get to hit people and get interceptions, too.”
Friday’s victory could signify that Richwood is on the upswing.
“Last year, we went 2-8, but our team was young,” Henderson said. “Our coaches have always told us that we have great classes coming up in ’20 and ’21.Coach Yanez came in and installed a new system. I believe if we stay together, we can be a great team.”
Henderson is a big part of the Rams’ plans offensively and defensively. He just won’t be asked to share his advice on the starting lineup in the foreseeable future.