His head coach sums Henderson’s worth in a gut-busting manner.
“This was about three or four years ago here before he was a full-time guy,” Geneva County coach Jim Bob Striplin said. “I’ll put it to you this way. When he was just getting here, I was known for having a play sheet the size of a Waffle House menu. Now with him, my play sheet is about the size of an index card.”
“That’s how good Emmanuel is for us.”
He proves that talking to the football coach in a very small town is good for the soul. Especially about the best player in almost a century.
Striplin also invoked the name of a sure-fire NFL Hall of Famer when describing Henderson. It was from a different position, but the same impact on the other 11 men in the huddle.
“He’s just always going to make everybody around him better,” Striplin said. “For me, I’ve always been a huge Tom Brady fan. Emmanuel has probably already gotten tired of hearing from me how a champion always makes the people around him better. I’ve been telling him that since he was in the eighth and ninth grades. He’s taken on some of those characteristics.”
“I’m from Georgia so I love UGA,” he said. “They are close to my Mom’s house.”
His mother lives in Columbus. Henderson was actually born there. Not in Alabama.
What’s the best thing he likes about the Bulldogs?
“Just the program overall,” he said. “You know that and the city of Athens. I love it. It’s a great place to be.”
He’s aware of the running back tradition at Georgia. Who does he feel he plays like?
“Probably Todd Gurley,” he said.
McGee has been talking to Henderson for some time.
“Dell McGee and I have a great relationship,” he said. “We talk about two times every week. That’s him and Coach [Kirby] Smart.”
Georgia only signed one RB in the 2021 class. The need there has never been stronger to sign a pair of elite RBs in 2022. The program needs to get back to the days of Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall and Nick Chubb and Sony Michel and James Cook and Zamir White.
“They say I’m a huge priority for them,” he said. “They really need me in that 2022 class.”
Henderson was limited all season by a high-ankle sprain. He wasn’t himself from the third week until the first round of the playoffs. It cost him his best lateral quickness and his top-end speed.
He still rambled for about 1,500 yards and 18 touchdowns.
“I got hurt,” he said. “But I tried to keep playing and got all my speed and my ability and my juking ability back by the end of the season. By that first playoff game we had, I was ready. The first round of the playoffs I was ready and I scored five touchdowns in that game.”
When that’s a “limited” year, it is not that bad. Check out this reel while facing a 13-2 team that went on to play for the state championship in Alabama.
Compare that with his sophomore year in which he scored 46 touchdowns and ran for 2,000 yards. That year was so prolific his sophomore highlight calls for an intermission and a few trailers prior to the 19-minute scoring spree.
Emmanuel Henderson: Taking a look at his top 10
Why did he feel ready to already name a top 10 back in December?
“Just to cut my schools down,” he said. “It is getting to that point where I am getting close to choosing a school.”
When might that be?
“I’m not absolutely sure right now,” he said late last month. “But I’m getting close to that time.”
There’s a couple of thoughts right now around that. He could make his commitment in mid-December for the early signing period for the 2022 class.
“I have no problem with doing it this time next year,” he said back in December. “But you know all this recruiting can get tough sometimes. So I probably would not want to do it earlier than that.”
What is he looking for in the perfect school fit?
“Communication and loyalty,” he said.
He called that group of 10 teams his “final 10” and not a top 10. What do they have in common?
“They have great communication with me and they show me a lot of love and we have always been talking on and off,” he said.
How hard will it be for him not to choose Alabama or an Auburn? He’s actually surrounded by some Florida, some FSU, some Georgia, and also an abundance of Tide and Tiger fans in his community.
“I just got to look at it as this is just me and God in this situation,” Henderson said. “I’ll just have to keep talking to him in this situation and see where he wants me to go.”
Which schools are recruiting him the hardest?
“UGA, Alabama, Auburn and Clemson,” he said.
He thinks the approaches from all those elite schools are similar. There’s no Zoom or FaceTime pitch that seems to be distinctly different than the others so far.
“Guys on our team will call him ‘Nation’ or ‘D-1″ but they do it because they are proud of him and proud for him,” Geneva County defensive coordinator Micah Turner said. “He takes it all in stride. I’ve never seen him act like all this attention or offers make him feel like he’s any better than any of his teammates.”
Emmanuel Henderson was limited by an ankle sprain in 2020 but ran for 46 touchdowns and 2,000 yards as a sophomore in 2019. (Emmanuel Henderson/Courtesy photo)
What matters to Emmanuel Henderson?
His competitive nature is described as the best asset in his toolbox. Not his skill set. Or his big hands and long arms. He can go up and catch a ball.
He can cover five years in about one stride and maybe a smidge of a step. He’s got a very quick first step.
His head coach referenced the recent “The Last Dance” documentary while describing his tenacity. He sees a Michael Jordan quality in Henderson, too.
“The big thing is he’s kind of like that ‘dog’ or that ‘Jordan dog’ you see from all of that,” Striplin said.
What’s a good player parallel? Striplin sized up him as a faster version of former Auburn great and current Detriot Lion Kerryon Johnson.
What matters to him? When asked that, he shared a telling answer.
“I’m all about respect,” Henderson said. “Respect is a big thing about me. Respect for everybody and everything. All of God’s blessings down on me and my life. I want to thank God first for that and them my mom.”
His mother, Shonta Cohen, basically means the world to him.
“She means a lot,” he said. “She’s sacrificed a lot for me to be where I am today.”
Cohen lives in Columbus, but she is not a fan of any school.
“She barely watches college football but she is getting the hang of it, though,” Henderson said.
Emmanuel Henderson won’t likely be able to enroll early in January of 2022. His school doesn’t have a history of midyear graduates. (Emmanuel Henderson/Courtesy photo)
His cousin, Javion Cohen, is a scholarship offensive lineman at Alabama. He was a 4-star prospect and the nation’s No. 25 OT for the Class of 2020.
There was a time when Cohen also felt very strongly about UGA, too.
Henderson is bench pressing over 305 pounds. According to Striplin, his squat is right at 485 pounds. That’s while in the middle of basketball season.
“A lot of people don’t pay attention to me getting stronger,” Henderson said. “A lot of people see my speed but I’ve been working on getting stronger so you can tell it in the games when I start trucking people.”
He’s also a three-sport athlete at a Class 2A school.
That school, which also carries the Bulldogs nickname, has a classification enrollment number of just 181 students.
As stated earlier, he is quick enough to steal the ball away from a guard who is steaming straight at him.
That comes from building upon his God-given ability.
“When I go to Georgia, I go to visit Mom,” he said. “I have these like three big hills in Columbus and like they are really big near her house. I run up and down those hills until I can’t feel my legs anymore.”
Henderson stands to be the first member of his family to go to college. Much less on a college scholarship.
“It means a lot,” Henderson said. “There are a lot of people looking up to me.”
He’s had a love for the game since he began playing at the age of six.
“I want football to carry me a long ways but you always have got to have a backup plan that goes along with that,” Henderson said.
Henderson, who will be 18 in October, plans a major in either physical therapy or sports marketing.
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Emmanuel Henderson also plays basketball and baseball for his Geneva County Bulldogs. (Emmanuel Henderson/Courtesy photo)
Why Georgia is on the mind of Emmanuel Henderson
He said he values the time that Smart has to chat.
“It is always a great opportunity to talk to him,” Henderson said. “That’s a fun and a funny dude. He likes to laugh and joke around. He’s a great guy.”
Can he see himself playing for Georgia?
“Yes sir,” he said, but he also said he had the same feeling about all of the schools in his top 10.
What sticks in his mind from the communication with coach McGee?
“He’s a great guy,” Henderson said. “He will tell you the truth and nothing but the truth. I really like him.”
Henerson learned he is a great fit for what Georgia wants to do with its backs in Todd Monken’s offense.
“He says I am a huge priority for Georgia now and their system,” Henderson said.
Henderson said on December 17 that he had spoken to Nick Saban twice and he’d been on the phone with Dabo Swinney once. What about Smart?
“I’ve spoken to Coach Smart about eight or nine times,” Henderson said in December.
He also grew up about 25 miles from the area where 5-star Georgia signee Xavian Sorey Jr. calls home. Henderson was keenly aware that Sorey signed with the Bulldogs, too.
“I was following him being a Florida kid,” Henderson said. “Sorey and I talk a lot. So we are good friends. I have hung out with him a couple of times.”
As fate might have it, Sorey’s cousin plays on the Geneva County basketball team.
“So I met him through him,” Henderson said.
If the NCAA let him take visits again, he said he’d want to go see Georgia, Alabama, Auburn and Clemson first. He mentioned those schools in that order.
When he does finally get that chance, he’ll already know Sorey on the UGA campus.
Here’s how Henderson looked in that playoff game of 2020. It appears he was back to his top form.
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