Brad Henderson waited three years to get his shot running the offense at East Mississippi Community College after sitting behind former Bastrop high star Randall Mackey for two.
He waited only three series to make his Northwestern State debut.
Even though the Demons had preseason All-Southland Conference selection Paul Harris returningￊfor his junior year, Henderson was so impressive in the spring and summer that he propelled himself into the opening-day game plan.
But instead ofￊproviding a change-of-pace option as expected, the junior-college transfer led Northwesternￊfrom a 17-point deficit en route to a 24-23 victory over Division II power Delta State.
“Who wouldn’t want to go out there and lead their team?” Henderson said.ￊ”Rally those guys up?”
Henderson completed the first 13 passes he threw, setting a school record for consecutive completions. Meanwhile, Harris was benched for sideline conduct coach Bradley Dale Peveto deemed detrimental.
Friday, the day after the opener, Peveto announced that Harris had been suspended from the team indefinitely. Monday, Henderson was named the Louisiana Sports Writers Association’s Offensive Player of the Week.
Theￊgame that shaped up as a homecoming for Harris,ￊa former Tara High star, will instead mark Henderson’s first career start when the Demonsￊface LSU on Saturday night in Tiger Stadium.
“It’s definitely going to be a new experience for me, because coming from junior college, I never played in front of a big crowd,” Henderson said.ￊ”No more than 4,000 - that’s probably the biggest crowd I ever played in front of. Just being honest, we’re going down there to win. But it’s going to be a good test just to see where we are.”
While he relishes the opportunity to run Northwestern’s offense, Henderson said he hurts for Harris. The two were roommates this summer.
“I’m his teammate first regardless of what position we play,” Henderson said.ￊ”You don’t want to see anything like that ever happen to your teammate. I don’t have much knowledge of what happened. I’m kind of scared to ask. But you never want to have that happen to a player.”
Listed at 5-foot-11, 210 pounds, Henderson is a run-pass threat and a weight-room workout warrior.
Former East Mississippi offensive coordinator Andy Siegal, who helped hone Henderson’s skills in the JUCO ranks, said he expects theￊnewcomer to lower his shoulder on a few LSU defenders Saturday night.
He called Hendersonￊone of the toughest quarterbacks he has coached.
“Brad’s a different breed,” Siegal said. “He’s got some Tim Tebow in him.”
Unlike his head-first approach on the football field, however, Henderson’s route to Division I football required patience and persistence.
He signed with EMCC in 2008 as a lightly recruited prospect out of Starkville (Miss.) High. He sat behind Mackey, Louisiana’s Mr. Football in 2007, as his teammateￊblossomed into an Ole Miss signee.
After graduating from EMCC in December 2009, Henderson originally eschewed the chance to finally start in Scooba, Miss., and enrolled at Mississippi State, where he hoped to join his hometown team as a walk-on.
After oneￊsemester, Henderson returned to EMCC.
“He had some eligibility issues at Mississippi State,” Siegal said. “His grades were fine, but I think he was missing a course.”
Hendersonￊmade the most of his one season at EMCC, throwingￊfor 2,763 yards and 26 touchdowns with just seven interceptions and rushing forￊ320 yards on 105 carries. Along the way,ￊheￊpicked upￊscholarship offers from Northwestern State and Southeastern Louisiana, plus an invitation to play for Alabama as a preferred walk-on.
“I didn’t know anything about Northwestern State or the city of Natchitoches,” Henderson said. “My first time coming to Louisiana is when I came here on my visit.”
Henderson signed with Northwestern in December and enrolled in January. He said he wasn’t turned off by the prospect of battling Harris, a 15-game starter, for playing time.
“For them to offer me a scholarship, that told me they thought I could come in and play,” he said.
Peveto said the plan last week was for Harris to play the firstￊtwo series, Henderson to play the third and Harris to return for the fourth and fifth.
“Brad had a very good camp and had a very good spring,” Peveto said.ￊ”We were just making sure we got him playing time and had him ready to go.”
The benching of Harris left the ball in Henderson’s hand.
Henderson led the Demons to scores on four of their first five second-half series, beginning the second-greatest comebackￊby Northwestern since the program joined the Division I ranks.ￊHe finished with 210 passing yards, including a 32-yard touchdown pass.
“My teammatesￊrallied behind me like I’d been playingￊhere forever,” Henderson said.ￊ”They believed in me. You could tell just by the look in their eyes.”