Kevin Henry continues to be big hit for Central

Advocate staff photo by RICHARD ALAN HANNON -- Central High School defensive back Kevin Henry
Advocate staff photo by RICHARD ALAN HANNON -- Central High School defensive back Kevin Henry

At first glance, you might have believed the picture was enhanced somewhere along the way.

No way could then Central High School freshman strong safety Kevin Henry have literally flown through the air on a blitz with his thigh planted against the facemask of Scotlandville running back Dontrell Hilliard trying to protect his quarterback.

Among the memories Central coach Sid Edwards has of Henry during his stellar career is the menacing photo of nearly three years ago stored in his cell phone.

“Instinctively, he’s probably one of the best I’ve ever coached,” Edwards said. “He looks effortless. He’s just all over the place.”

With his team holding onto a one-point lead in a back-and-forth District 4-5A thriller on Friday against Scotlandville, Henry relied on his high-flying antics to help nail down an important victory.

Henry, sensing Hilliard was the first option, locked in on the Hornets’ top offensive threat lined up in the slot when the ball was snapped.

Moments later, with Darion Williams’ pass headed toward the end zone, Henry deflected the ball out of the air and into the waiting hands of teammate Dillon Brumfield for an interception to secure the 27-26 win with less than three minutes to go.

“I told the coaches before the drive started I lived for those kinds of moments, and I’m going to go out there and win the game,” said Henry, a junior who has two interceptions this season. “I want to be in those situations. Big-time players make big-time plays.”

When Central (4-1, 1-0) visits archrival Denham Springs (3-2, 2-0) in a key league game at 7 p.m. Friday, it will represent Henry’s 30th consecutive start.

Not bad for someone with nothing more than hoops dreams until he reached Central and played in his first junior varsity game.

Then head coach Doug Dotson approached Henry after a helmet-rattling performance and put him on alert to be prepared if called upon in the varsity game two days later.

Henry did better than that. He started, and has been a fixture in the back of the Wildcats defense ever since.

“That one (junior varsity) game turned everything around,” Henry said. “I was knocking people’s heads off, and coach told me that’s the kind of football people come to see.

“When he told me to be ready because I might play on Friday, my eyes got huge.”

Edwards, who returned to coach Central last season, recalled seeing Henry for the first time as a seventh-grader on the basketball court. He was playing on the back end of a full-court press and darted out of nowhere for a steal on a diagonal pass 30 feet away from him.

“It seemed like he traveled in eight-tenths of a second,” Edwards said. “I told the (middle school) coach he was a defensive back. He said he was a basketball player.”

With tremendous bloodlines pumping through his athletic veins — Henry is the cousin of former LSU standout and current Boston Celtics forward Brandon Bass — it’s no surprise the 6-foot-2, 205-pounder has enjoyed success in both sports.

Henry earned first team all-district honors in football a year ago with 47 tackles and went out for a second season as a starter and averaged 12.5 points in basketball.

Colleges such as LSU, Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, Mississippi State, Notre Dame, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M have not offered yet but have taken notice of Henry’s ability to lock down half the field with his coverage skills and physical presence in the secondary.

Three weeks ago, Edwards saw another side of Henry that still resonates.

With Central hosting Jesuit of New Orleans in a regionally televised game, Edwards noticed Henry giving his usual effort during plays and with hands on hips, gasping for air after the echo of the whistle.

Jesuit went on to hand Central its lone loss of the season — outlasting the Wildcats 17-14 — when Edwards saw Henry sprawled out in the team’s end zone.

“He was dehydrated because of a virus and didn’t tell anyone,” Edwards said. “You go back to the old days when some players had that warrior mentality. That’s Kevin, but in a new era.”

Henry went to the hospital that night for a couple of hours for intravenous fluids, missed a couple of days of school and was back on hand the following week in a 42-15 win over McKinley.

“It was a big game with Jesuit coming to town,” Henry said. “I felt like I would be letting down my team if I sat out. I recovered for McKinley and went out and had a great game.”