VooDoo opens season Sunday vs. Orlando

One year ago, VooDoo defensive lineman Robert Henderson recovered a fumble, which was then knocked out of his hands. Henderson tried to recover it, only to be tackled during his pursuit.

That’s when he heard the pop which marred his first season in the Arena Football League.

While Henderson finished the game with a torn labrum in his left shoulder, he missed the rest of the regular season, and did not return until the VooDoo’s first-round playoff loss to Philadelphia.

So it comes as no surprise that Henderson, a native of Ponchatoula, is anticipating Sunday’s VooDoo season opener against the Orlando Predators at the New Orleans Arena.

“I can’t say I can’t wait because I have to wait,” said Henderson, who played college football at Southern Miss and was originally a 2008 sixth-round draft pick of the NFL’s New York Giants.

“That preseason game (against San Antonio Talons) felt good, but it isn’t nothing like the real game when you get back to it.”

The VooDoo need Henderson, as much as he needs the game. For no player not named quarterback Kurt Rocco will have as big of an impact this season on the team’s success. In a league where offenses dominate, a pass rusher with the ability to end possessions is a vital ingredient to a playoff berth.

The VooDoo were able to reach the playoffs without Henderson. Now, coach Pat O’Hara is wondering how far the VooDoo can advance with Henderson and a revamped defense without departed defensive standouts Alvin Ray Jackson at linebacker (Pittsburgh Power) and Jeremy Kellem at defensive back (Arizona Rattlers).

“We really missed his ability to get after quarterbacks last season,” O’Hara said. “If we’re going to be successful this season, we’re really going to need him to pick where he left off entering last season’s opener.”

The VooDoo finished last season with an 8-10 record, tied for third in the American Conference South. Without Henderson on the field, defensive back DeMarcus Robinson paced the unit, finishing with 911/2 tackles and six interceptions. Overall, the defense ranked 10th in the league, including 10 in scoring (55.3 ppg).

“A lot of people had to step up last season when I got hurt,” Henderson said. “Now, I want to do my part.”

Like his teammates, Henderson is aiming for another shot at the NFL. His 2008 season with the New York Giants ended with him on injured reserve with an ankle injury, starting his cross country journey from Jacksonville Jaguars and the Detroit Lions to the Seattle Seahawks and now, the VooDoo of the AFL.

Henderson hopes it won’t be his last professional football stop.

“I know what it takes get there,” he said of the NFL. “But I know how they (teammates) feel because they want to get there. I’m in the same predicament. I’m trying to get back myself. It’s all about being hungry.

“If you’re hungrier than the person across from you, you should get there.”