John Denton's Knights Insider: Knights Like Their Chances With Henderson

March 25, 2010

By John Denton

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ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - As UCF's starting middle linebacker, Chance Henderson must know all of the terminology of the defense and the responsibilities of each of the other 10 defenders on the field.

But now after a year in which he had a dramatically different vantage point to look at UCF's defense from afar, Henderson feels he'll be an even greater defensive force next season for the Knights.

Henderson, a 6-foot-1 236-pound senior, is back patrolling the middle for the Knights defense this spring after spending almost a full year away from football because of a torn ACL to his left knee. Henderson, a starter the three seasons before his injury, hasn't been fully released for all contact yet, but he's on target to be ready by the fall. And he's already showing signs this spring of getting back to being the dominant, sideline-to-sideline stopper for UCF's defense from the ``mike'' backer spot.

Henderson said he didn't realize how much football meant to him until last summer's injury took the game from his grasp. But sitting out, he said, gave him a new perspective on the game and one that he feels will be beneficial this season.

``Being able to see it from the sidelines, it's a totally different perspective. It was almost like I was a coach,'' Henderson said with a chuckle. ``Not just seeing your position, but seeing the whole defense and the whole field, I think that taught me a lot. And that helps, especially being a middle linebacker because there's a lot of responsibility.''

The Knights had to scramble to find a replacement at middle linebacker last August when Henderson went down in training camp with a shredded knee. Fifth-year senior Cory Hogue moved from outside to inside, and filled the role admirably.

``That's a tough replacement because Cory had a tremendous year for us. From a leadership standpoint and knowing where the people were supposed to be we were able to do a lot of things with Cory,'' UCF defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable said. ``So that's a position where this spring it's going to be very important for us to find out who that guy is.''

Now, UCF is trying to replace Hogue this spring. Junior Josh Linam and sophomore D.J. Williams are strong candidates and will provide depth, but it's Henderson who the Knights are hoping can get all the way back to where he was two seasons ago.

In 2008, Hogue was a preseason All-Conference USA pick and ranked fifth on the team in tackles and fourth on the team in sacks. But all of that promise came to a screeching halt last summer on a toss sweep play.

``The running back was going out and he cut back and I cut back and my leg just kind of snapped on me,'' Henderson said. ``I heard it pop, but I didn't know the seriousness of the injury. But hey, that's football.''

The rehabilitation from the injury was brutal, Henderson said. But it wasn't nearly as bad as being away from football for the first time since his childhood days.

``Coming in as a freshman and a sophomore and playing right away and then not being able to play in what was supposed to be my senior year, that was so hard,'' said Henderson, the Conyers, Ga. ``I just tried to help the team any way that I could from the sidelines.''

Being away from football last year, Henderson got to witness the birth of his daughter, Laila, last year with fiancée Briana. He said that being a father for the first time while still in college also brought some new perspective to his life. And nothing brightened his spirits last winter when he would come home from a rehab session and saw his one-year-old daughter.

``It's a responsibility. It adds another perspective to my life,'' said Henderson, whose daughter attended spring drills recently. ``It's something that I had to get used to. She's great.''

Now, the Knights want a healthy Henderson to be great in the middle of their defense again.

``The (middle) linebacker on any team has to be a leader, has to be smart. You have to be able to make all of the calls, and most importantly, you have to be able to make the plays,'' he said. ``There's pressure there, but it's a position that I'm used to. It's a position that I've played for three years and I'm just ready to come back and make a name for myself again.''


John Denton's Knights Insider appears on UCFathletics.com several days a week. E-mail John at jdenton@athletics.ucf.edu.