As the Richwood Rams ran sideline-to-sideline sprints to close out a recent preseason conditioning session, one player stood out. Running each race all the way through, Calvin “CJ” Henderson Jr. won every sprint by several steps. It’s a scene that has become the norm at Richwood.
“CJ’s a pleasure to coach,” Richwood coach Marcus Yanez said. “He is one of those student-athletes that gets it.”
A 6-3, 170-pound senior, Henderson has verbally committed to Texas Southern as a free safety.“CJ works hard in the classroom and on the field. That is why he is the most recruitable athlete we have at Richwood,” Yanez said. “He put himself in position to be able to commit.”
Texas Southern originally offered Henderson last summer. Though several schools showed interest, including Oklahoma State, Louisiana-Lafayette, Northwestern State and Arkansas Tech, TSU turned out to be his only offer. That was fine with Henderson.
“I like the family environment at Texas Southern,” Henderson said. “Their coaches have shown a lot of interest since my sophomore year, and it just felt like family there.”
For Henderson, it was important to commit early.
“I wanted to commit before Signing Day, so I could focus on helping my teammates make a deep playoff run,” said Henderson, a two-time first-team All-District 2-3A honoree.
At this time last year, Henderson thought of himself as a wide receiver who played cornerback and free safety out of necessity.
Everything changed when Henderson intercepted three passes, including an 86-yard pick-6 just before halftime in the Rams’ 26-14 season-opening victory over Shreveport Woodlawn.
“That was a great experience,” Henderson recalled of his breakout game. “The D-line helped me a lot because they were putting so much pressure on the quarterback. All I had to do was cover my man for a few seconds, and break to the ball.”
Of course, the 86-yard touchdown return was the highlight of the night.
“The D-line, linebackers and cornerbacks gave me some great downfield blocking,” Henderson said. “All I had to do was run it it.”
Unfortunately for Henderson and the Rams, the season turned sour from there.
For a team coming off of a 1-8 finish, Henderson’s hopes of a deep playoff run may seem far-fetched.
“Last year, we had a lot of inexperience, and it was our first year with coach Yanez,” Henderson said. “We have the same head coach and pretty much the same coaching staff, which has made it a lot easier for us as far as jelling.”
“The biggest improvement we have to make is our mindset coming out of halftime. We were in almost every game at halftime, then we would lose focus. This year, we have to finish the job.”
Richwood returns a solid core after losing only four senior starters. But for the Rams to follow in the footsteps of District 2-3A Carroll as this year’s surprise team, they will need contributions from more players.
“We have a lot of experience coming back, and we are a senior-oriented team,” Henderson said. “We have some juniors and sophomores who know what to do, and we have some freshmen who are going to contribute quickly. We hold each other accountable.”
Richwood’s summer workouts were sidetracked when one of its athletes tested positive for the COVID-19 virus.
“Our attendance started off very high, but it slowed down after the player tested positive,” Henderson said. “That scared everybody, but we are starting to get back in gear.
“Coach Yanez sent us some workouts, which kind of kept us ahead of the game.”
Led by Henderson and safety Xavier Wright, a first team All-District selection last season, the secondary is projected as the Rams’ strength.
Henderson expects the Rams to make their most dramatic improvement on offense.
“Our quarterback (Michael Sherman) has a lot of experience, and he can beat you with his arms or his legs,” Henderson said. “We have two explosive running backs in Wesley Williams and Terry Meneweather.”
Henderson is especially excited about the Rams’ receiving corps.
“I think Antonio Taylor is going to surprise a lot of people this year. He works harder than anybody on the team in my opinion,” Henderson said. “I think Anaji Wordlaw is going to be another surprise player. He has really improved a lot. He has the most reliable hands on the team. Once the ball hits his hands, it’s a catch.
“Jaye Davis has moved from quarterback to receiver, and I believe Devin Hampton is the most underrated receiver in the city.”
Henderson, of course, will again figure heavily into the Rams’ plans offensively as well as defensively.
“CJ is a kid who rarely comes off the field,” Yanez said. “A big reason for that is he can be trusted.”
Henderson has earned Yanez’s trust and respect.
“CJ wants to be coached,” Yanez said. “He’s not one of those players who wants to be left alone because he’s afraid you are going to chew him out. He’s a kid that embraces coaching.”
Since advancing to state championship game in 2017, the Rams are a combined 3-16 over the past two seasons.
Henderson is ready to see a change.
“We are ready to show everybody what we are all about,” Henderson said. “We are definitely underdogs, but I believe we are going to turn a lot of heads.