COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Midway through practice Aug. 18, Maryland quarterback Daxx Garman took a deep five-step drop and looked downfield, where a receiver had his man beaten by two strides. Garman promptly unfurled a high, arching throw into the left corner of the end zone, giving his intended target a presumably easy six.
But Garman failed to identify safety A.J. Hendy, the fifth-year senior dropping back in anticipation of the long ball. Extending well above his 6-foot frame, Hendy skied over-top the receiver, snared Garman’s pass and came down in-bounds to effectively secure the pick.
“Drive over,” said a smiling Hendy post-practice. “It was the last play [of the segment] and I knew I had to get deep, because [the offense] was going to take a shot [at the end zone]. So I got back and made the play.”
Turns out that wasn’t Hendy’s first significant contribution this August. The senior’s been showing out since camp began, head coach Randy Edsall singling him out for his play.
“A.J. has done well. Again, that’s what you would expect out of a fifth year guy. He’s playing well right now, he’s playing with confidence, he’s doing all the things we want him to do back there,” Edsall said. “He’s communicating well, which is important for a safety. It’s his opportunity to step up and shine … But what like I like about it is he’s working hard every day. He’s not taking anything for granted.”
No, he’s certainly not.
A year after Edsall issued Hendy, along with receiver Levern Jacobs, a season-long school suspension stemming from a July 19, 2014, incident involving the assault of two Maryland students, the safety is back and seeking redemption. Hendy, who was never charged in the incident, said he’s been itching to compete.
“When I [was suspended], I was just trying to plot my next move and think about things moving forward. I never got down on myself or anything like that. And, fortunately, Coach Edsall threw me an olive branch and allowed me to come back and help this team,” Hendy said. “I just wanted to finish what I started. I could have left [Maryland] years ago, like when I wasn’t starting, but I wanted to see it through. I’ve never been a quitter at any point in my life. I’m going to finish this out the right way.”
Hendy has been on path to do so since late last August. The safety said while he’s always been a focused individual, he “intensified” it in the wake of his suspension. With extra time on his hands, the Bowie, Md., native ramped up the academic effort, ensuring he’d at least have his criminal justice degree after four years in College Park. Then, when he wasn’t in class or completing his assignments, Hendy trudged to the weight room or the practice field, often by himself.
The routine continued for the next 11 months. In fact, Hendy didn’t even return home during the summer. Although Bowie is less than a half-hour away from College Park, he said he didn’t want to deal with any possible distractions.
“I was just grinding,” Hendy said. “I didn’t want to lose my edge. I just went to class and worked out – that’s it.”
The Maryland staff took notice, from Edsall to defensive coordinator Keith Dudzinski to defensive backs coach Darrell Perkins. All three mentioned Hendy as someone who has stepped up, effectively seizing the starting safety spot after Sean Davis’ shift to cornerback.
Hendy has impressed his teammates, including fellow safety Anthony Nixon, as well.
“A.J. knows what he’s doing back there, so it’s been a pretty easy transition,” Nixon said. “He’s experienced, and I’ve been back there with him before in past years, so it’s not been that much different than working with Sean. I feel like they’re the same type of player -- same height, weight, instincts. A.J. and I have been in the same meeting rooms since I’ve been here, so we already communicate well and know how each other plays. He’s going to step in and get the job done.”
It’s been a long time coming for the former four-star recruit. Coming out of Bowie High, Hendy envisioned himself a multi-year starter at Maryland, locking down the secondary and eventually earning all-conference honors. But from 2011-2014, the 6-0, 210-pounder has, for various reasons (injuries, inconsistent play and the suspension), started a total of only six games.
“I honestly didn’t think it would take this long to [become a starter], but everything happens for a reason,” Hendy said. “The time has come, and now I have to step up. This year, I’m going to be a leader for these guys and play my heart out.”
That’s all well in good, but it’s hardly been just roses for Hendy since his return, however. He admitted he’s still getting acclimated to Maryland’s new 4-3 defense, noting how he needs to gain more confidence in the scheme. Hendy also acknowledged that while he’s comfortable running alongside Nixon, it’s been “a little rocky at times.”
“I’m getting there,” Hendy said. “Some of the things we did from our last defense transferred over, like some of the drops, concepts and blitzes. And Coach [Darrell] Perkins, he’s helped us a lot with our techniques and reads. But I’m still just trying to get better every day.”
Maryland’s secondary as a whole, which features All-Big-Ten corner Will Likely and mainstays like Davis and Nixon, is supposed to be the defense’s strength. But for it to succeed, the group’s one newcomer has to prove all that extra work consistently translates when the curtain lifts at Byrd Stadium.
“A.J. is everything you want in a safety,” Nixon said. “I’m confident in him. He’s put in the time, and now he’s going to show he can be a great starter.”
For Hendy, it would be the ultimate redemption story. He said after a year off, he’s eager to take the Big Ten by storm during his final collegiate campaign.
After practice Aug. 18, he rattled off a few quarterbacks he’d like to pick off ... before promptly stopping himself.
“I want them all [quarterbacks],” Hendy said, smirking. “I want at least eight picks this year; I want to be an all-conference type of player. I definitely want to be remembered here. I don’t want to be known as a guy who just passed through and didn’t leave a mark. Like I said, I want to finish what I came here to do.”
Hendy Seizing Second Chance
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