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Lafayette's Kyvory Henderson engineers a fine football career
Most times a college recruits the football player.
In Kyvory Henderson’s case it was other way around.
“I wanted to come to Lafayette mainly for the engineering program and the academics,” Henderson said.
And Henderson, a Glen Burnie, Md. resident, wanted to continue a successful football career. He had been an All-Anne Arundel County selection playing tight end, outside linebacker and defensive end his junior season.
“I tore my ACL in the third game of my senior season, and schools that recruited me backed off,” he said.
One of them was not Lafayette – because Henderson wasn’t even on the Leopards’ radar screen.
“We didn’t recruit him at all,” Lafayette coach Frank Tavani said. “We didn’t know him.”
Now the Leopards do – and so does the rest of the Patriot League.
Henderson, a 6-foot-2, 230-pound senior, has become the first walk-on in Tavani’s 12 seasons on College Hill as head coach “to play and to make a difference,” Tavani said.
Henderson is used primarly as a pass-rushing defensive end. In last week’s 14-13 loss to Georgetown he posted four tackles, a sack, and 1.5 tackles for loss. He was constantly in the Hoyas’ backfield. Georgetown clearly had trouble with Henderson’s first step and explosiveness.
Henderson will play a key role Saturday night in trying to get pressure against Penn’s veteran quarterback, junior Billy Ragone, who has been sacked just four times in his career.
“Run defense will be really important against Penn because they don’t pass as much as Georgetown,” Henderson said.
It’s a long way to come for a walk-on.
“Kyvory wrote us to ask to walk on, and we have an open tryout policy here,” Tavani said. “We worked him out in mini-camps, put him through his 40’s and 20’s (yard-dashes) and we realized he was a pretty athletic kid. Little by little he kept getting better, and once he got his knee straightened out he became an impact player.”
Henderson played in 11 games in 2010 and earned a letter but has become a much more prominent Leopard as a senior. Henderson offered generous praise for help and time he received from defensive line coach Joe Dougherty, who has had that role at Lafayette since 2009.
“Over time, with Coach Doc’s help it became easier to understand the defense,” Henderson said. “I wasn’t content just with being a pass rusher. Coach Dougherty has worked really hard to get us to get off the ball better and create penetration.”
Henderson’s road to becoming a contributor took a bit of a winding way, His demanding choice of majors – bioengineering – required a considerable adjustment to college’s demands.
“All freshmen come to college with massive egos,” Henderson said. “You all think you’re the smartest person on campus (in high school) and you come to Lafayette and suddenly everybody’s the smartest person too.
“I’ve become a smarter person overall, but my freshman year was hard. There were side effects of my knee injuries; the academic commitments made me miss practices. In the long run I learned to cope with it. I had to make a serious commitment to engineering and to football. It was a real reality check.”
Penn’s offense will offer the Leopards a similar test Saturday night. While Lafayette’s defense did not play poorly against the Hoyas, allowing just 269 yards overall, Tavani was highly critical of missed tackles and blown coverages that allowed Georgetown to escape with a victory.
“We have to hold ourselves accountable for what’s going on when we’re out on the field,” Henderson said. “We have to set the tempo. We have to have personal pride in what we’re doing on the field, saying, ‘This is my guy, this is my zone.’ We need to be more consistent. We can’t let teams convert on third down, it has to go from third-and-long to fourth-and-long.”
Henderson’s post-football goal is to go to graduate school for bioengineering with the goal of becoming a researcher.
“He’s a neat kid,” Tavani said. “I can’t imagine majoring in engineering at all, much less playing football, too. It’s made him a stronger kid.”
And Lafayette a stronger team.
By Brad Wilson, The Express-Times