I did advance scouting for a buddy of mine who was the head coach at a high school in the suburbs of the Twin Cities. One of the schools in his conference was the epic power Cretin-Derham Hall.
That in itself made the low-paying job fun. There were always some seriously high-level players on Cretin Derham Hall. Serious, as in Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Michael Floyd, who was, until 2009, the best high school player I ever saw. My friend told me in 2008 Floyd will be a top 15 NFL Draft pick. He went 13 overall in the 2012 NFL Draft.
In 2009, though, I saw Seantrel Henderson, Cretin Derham's left tackle, and the top recruit in the country, for the first time. For as good as Floyd was - and he was so much better than everyone around him it was almost unfair - Henderson was as gifted an athlete as I've ever seen.
Henderson was 6-foot-7, 310 pounds as a high school junior. He maintained that same size into his senior year. I got my first look at him in a game against the worst team in the conference. It was a chilly October night, and I bundled up with layers, and carried my notebook and pen. I usually tried to sit away from the crowd so I didn't have to hear the inane chatter of football parents and townies. Inevitably the stands would be full enough where someone would be sitting close enough to notice I was jotting down notes while sitting there by myself.
Not that it's unethical or illegal to scout games - the rule is you're not allowed to capture your own film - but only certain school did my buddy want me to make it known "he" was there. He was always dramatic like that.
Since my buddy's team was playing CDH's opponent the following week, I wasn't there to watch Henderson, but it was impossible not to notice him. His arms were long and muscular, and he moved faster than the team's receivers did. They would release him off the edge for screens and guys on the other side just fell on the ground in front of him. The poor defensive end they had going against him was, no exaggerations, 5-foot-9, 175 pounds. Henderson could have done some serious damage to the kid.
It dawned on me as I kept watching, it was just like he was biding his time. Not in an arrogant way, but he just seemed really bored. Now, beating the tar out of a kid you outweigh by 125 pounds probably gets old, but the intensity just wasn't there. Not the effort, mind you, but the competitive fire.
My next week's assignment was to watch CDH in preparation for our big game with the top-ranked Raiders. Putting on a different lens, I watched the rest of their offense and tried to think what it was like without Henderson in there. To put it in reference, imagine the Steelers offense without Ben Roethlisberger. It's really hard. With Henderson, it wasn't like he dominated. It was more like he just neutralized half the line. They didn't even run behind him as much as you think they would. He dropped into pass protection and you'd think you were watching a pro player. He had flawless technique for his age, and it was clear whichever school he was going to pick, he would start from Day 1. Three years of college football, he'd be a top five pick in the draft. There was no doubt. He was as sure a prospect as could be imagined.
Except, I couldn't get the feeling he really cared much.
My scouting report read as follows:
"78 is everything you've heard, except doesn't seem to care. Wonder if you had someone who could challenge him, what would he do? Collapses the line left to right, but does not go straight at players. Seems almost like he wants to be there but doesn't want to hurt anyone."
My buddy's school went after him all game. Crashed two guys on him, conflicted him in assignment throughout the game. After a while Henderson was swatting at undersized defenders in the same kind of way a normal person swats at flies. They probably needed two more defenders going right at him to make any kind of impact, but you could see the big kid get rattled. He had to work. He had to think. He didn't really look like he was enjoying it.
I spoke with a few coaches of other schools in the months that followed. The same kinds of things came up. "Yeah, I just don't know about him," and "immense talent, even bigger question marks."
It was a big thing when he finally chose a college. He first chose USC and allegedly backed out of his commitment after sanctions came down on the school. Rumor was Miami got in his ear about other benefits they would provide.
He ended up there after all the speculation and had one of the most disappointing collegiate careers in recent memory. Admitting to marijuana causing three suspensions while he was in school, the nation's top prospect just three years earlier was relegated to back-up duties on a mediocre Hurricanes team. He was back-to-back All-ACC honorable mention after playing four years there.
The latest on Henderson is he quit in the middle of his Pro Day - failing to complete the activities there. Gotta hand it to his agent, David Levine, this is some seriously high-level spin-doctoring.
"He went there intent to do the bench and position drills but his competitive spirit took over and he did a full combine," Levine told The Sun-Sentinel. "At the end of the workout he got dehydrated, started getting a super bad headache, felt like he was going to throw up and didn’t do the last two O-line drills."
It's another issue in a long-line of questions about the kid who's had potential coming out of his hindparts since he was 12 years old, but has seen scores of lesser talented players perform much better since he left high school.
A team looking to take a chance on just putting him in a good, structured environment might have taken him in third or fourth round. Now, after his "competition-fueled overwork" at his Pro Day, it's a wonder if he goes before the sixth round.
Sixth round...a spot where the physical opposite of Seantrel Henderson typically gets drafted. The undersized, the non-prototypes. Henderson had more talent in his right kneecap than most players had in their bodies. It's hard to believe it's come to this for him.
Then again, maybe it was always obvious.