CORAL GABLES, Fla. — Seantrel Henderson arrived at the University of Miami in 2010 already being to compared to NFL Pro Bowl tackles.
Now, after three disappointing seasons both on and off the field, the 6-foot-8, 345-pound senior right tackle just might be headed toward accomplishment and fulfillment.
If so, he’ll point to July 25, 2012, as a significant turning point. That was the day Henderson lost best friend Jordan Hughes in a fatal shooting.
“He was like my brother,” Henderson said. “He was a lot of motivation for me, and me not being able to pick up the phone to call him and talk to him everyday, like I usually did, bothered me a lot.”
Hughes’ death had a profound effect that took root “once I got back from his funeral,” he said.
Unlike Henderson, Hughes’ best sport was basketball. He was one of 25 finalists for Minnesota’s Mr. Basketball Award.
“He kind of wanted this more than I did,” Henderson said Monday morning while pointing to the ‘Canes practice fields. “College, playing sports … he was more into it than I was, and I knew that. I felt like I had to go out there and do it for him.”
Hurricanes coach Al Golden said he noticed a change in Henderson before last season, but …
“We didn’t get all of Seantrel yet,” Golden said. “I think we’re finally starting to get all of Seantrel. In other words, a total commitment from him. So, we’ll see if that continues.”
Henderson’s combination of size and skills in high school drew comparisons to NFL stars Orlando Pace and Jonathan Ogden, who was inducted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday.
“I can’t say that I ignored it,” he said of the hype. “It was in the back of my head everyday knowing that I had to live up to the certain potential that everybody saw in me. I can say it was pretty hard.”
Golden said Henderson will be best served to forget about trying to please others and instead focus on trusting his coaches. If he does that, Golden insisted No. 77 will be “happy with the outcome.”
Even without Hughes’ death, the past few years have been challenging for Henderson.
The St. Paul, Minn., native originally signed with the University of Southern California but was released from his letter of intent after the Trojans program was put on NCAA probation that summer.
After arriving at Miami under then-Hurricanes coach Randy Shannon, true freshman Henderson was inserted at right tackle because Orlando Franklin claimed the left tackle spot. “I didn’t care if I played guard or center,” Henderson said, “I just wanted to play.”
In 2011, Henderson considered transferring after Shannon was dismissed in November ’10. He also underwent August back surgery and endured a season-opening suspension reportedly due to academies or violating team rules. He played in eight games as UM endured the first of two consecutive postseason bowl bans.
Last year, before leaving for Hughes’ funeral, Henderson was involved in a car accident. He was charged with driving without a license and and disobeying a traffic sign. After Miami’s 7-5 season, there were rumors he would declare for this year’s NFL Draft.
“I thought about it, but I didn’t think about it for long,” Henderson said. “I felt like I was quitting on my team if I did. We haven’t won anything here yet. I felt like if I left, I’d be quitting on my team — I’m not with that at all.
“We have to make it happen this year. Right now.”
On Monday morning, before the ‘Canes third workout of the new season — the first with helmets and shoulder pads — Golden said he liked what he had seen so far of the ’13 Henderson.
“I think he’s in a good place right now,” Golden said. “I thing he’s starting to understand that discipline is the only the way to go. If you worry about what everybody else thinks, or where you should go … people projecting him here and there and all that … what about adhering to a process and enjoying the journey? Enjoying your time here, seeing how good you can get.
“We haven’t seen the best of him yet. I promise you we haven’t seen the best of him.”