Ricky Henry's journey ending, beginning again

Junior college is what it is. For some it's an obstacle which they have to overcome and for others it's an opportunity. For former Omaha Burke standout Ricky Henry, it could have been both. But he's ready to get on with his life as a Husker.

When former Husker quarterback Zac Taylor went to Butler Community College, it was as a result of the offense he ran at Wake Forest, changing. It was going more to a running style, which obviously didn't cater to what Taylor did best.

Without a whole lot of attention toward him while he was at Wake Forest, Taylor opted for the junior college route, finding Butler in Kansas, a team which ran an offense more to his liking.

Yes, it's the scenic route, but it let Taylor work on his passing game and, because Butler is one of the more prominent junior colleges in the country, it allowed him to get noticed by schools from all over, including, of course, Nebraska.

That's one way to go

Ricky Henry went a slightly different route.

It's probably more common in junior college that you see recruits who had Division 1-A potential, but not NCAA Clearinghouse grades. Not able to academically qualify, junior colleges are almost the guaranteed route, especially if that young person wishes to some day get back to playing big-time college ball.

Unlike Taylor, though, who went to one of the more famed junior colleges, Henry went to North Dakota State School of Science.

Not a traditional power by any stretch, the Wildcats compete for respect in the NJCAA, one of if not the toughest junior college association in the country. When touted JC Powers like Butler, Coffeyville and Snow are bringing in a host of superstar kids who couldn't quite make the grade, NDSCS tries to make inroads with who they can get.

One such player they did land, who first year head coach Chuck Parsons couldn't be happier about was, of course, Ricky Henry.

There was a question as to whether or not Henry would even opt to go to junior college, especially one existing in a climate that during this particular time of year, even Nebraskans would say it's cold.

But he did, and as Parsons thinks about Ricky's time there, he counts his team fortunate to have had him as part of the squad. "Now, I might be a little bias, but I think Ricky was the most dominant offensive lineman in the conference this last season," Parsons said of Henry, whose Wildcat team struggled to a disappointing 2-7 campaign. "We struggled getting some things done which wanted to, of course, but that kid dominated every snap he played."

One of the reasons for Henry's dominance doesn't hint so much to his high school days as it yells, stomps, screams and throws itself in your face.

The kid is just plain nasty.

There's this thing called a whistle. And during a football game, that usually means the end of a given play. But if Ricky has someone going on their back, he's not about to stop until he makes sure they get there. "You better have your head on a swivel when you go against him. That's all I have to say," Parsons said with a chuckle. "If he's not knocking someone down on every play, that usually means he's not on the field."

When the offense took the field, that wasn't often, in fact Parsons didn't recall of any snaps over the course of the 2007 season that Henry didn't take. He was a workhorse/warrior, in a manner of speaking, but once he was off the field, that's where Ricky probably changed.

He kept his intense disposition on the field, but off the field Parsons said of Henry that he studied hard and he was one of the nicest kids to be around. But it was that first part which Parsons knew was going to be Ricky's biggest challenge, because after all, that's why he was there.

"Academics was going to be the hard part and he knew it. Football came easy. You could see that, but the studies, that took some work," Parsons said. "Ricky did it though. There are some kids who come in and you know they aren't going to do much, but you could see Ricky was there for a reason."

For Ricky himself, no, it wasn't the road he wanted to go down, but the second you arrive on campus, you know why you are there. This is football, but not the football you want to play, and certainly not where you want to be. From the outset Ricky said of his experience that he didn't know how it was going to turn out, but he was going to do everything he could to make it turn out the right way. "My study habits are real different compared to what they were. They have changed immensely," Henry said. "The support here is great, and they really want to help you do well.

"I feel my game has improved, but my academics and the way I do things has really improved."

Ricky took an official visit to Nebraska this last weekend. For awhile, at least for those of us on the outside looking in, it was one we didn't know he would ever take. There's no rule that says you have to have such-and-such grade point average just to make a visit, but colleges almost always request transcripts, so they can see that you are indeed on schedule to make it to the Division 1 level.

And think about this official versus the one Henry took a couple of years ago. It's not like it's even the same Nebraska. The staff is almost completely changed and those still-shining facilities, weren't built when Ricky committed the first go around.

It's a new Nebraska, all right, but for a kid who grew up in Nebraska, and longed to play for the big red, he sees it perhaps more than most.

"Coach Pelini is a great, great coach and all the coaches are just real down to earth guys. It seems like things are a lot more optimistic and there's a lot more enthusiasm about the program now," Henry said. "So much has changed in just a short amount of time, it does seem like it's a different place. But it seems like it's a new chapter for Nebraska."


When you describe Ricky's style of play, you end up using words like some of those we used, and you can add "tough", "quick" and "strong" to that as well. Watching his highlight film from high school, it wasn't hard to think about Henry being a part of those option offenses not so very long ago, the Omaha native pounding, punishing and pushing his way down the field.

Pass protection and all its nuances, doesn't necessarily allow for a smashmouth mentality, but his coach joked that if there's a way to play smashmouth pass protection, Ricky has it down. "Oh, he doesn't need to be pushing you off the ball to knock you on your butt. I have seen him do that to plenty of people in plays where it's an obvious pass," Parsons said. "That's Ricky, though. He steps across that white line and if you are on the other team, he's not going to be your friend."

Henry doesn't chuckle too much when he hears that stuff, because he knows darn well it's true. Even talking about it gets him to thinking of what goes through his mind when he gets down on the line. It's you, it's him and on the count of two…. well, there is no you. It's just him.

"I hate the guy across from me. I hate him. I want to make sure he remembers me and he never wants to see me again," said Henry, who will be playing guard for the Huskers. "I want them not to even want to come on the field, because if they do, they know I am going to knock them on their ass."

You know, that actually makes me think of times when I have heard those kinds of remarks. Ricky is actually pretty even keeled and soft spoken about how he is, both on and off the field. He's a good kid, you might say, and Parsons would agree. Which is why he and, of course, Ricky, are pretty happy that the trip to Nebraska, which had a detour into North Dakota, is going to have a pretty good end .

"We want kids who are here to help themselves, because those are the only people who are really going to achieve and overcome any problems they might have had. And Ricky is someone who saw what was in front of him, and kind of like he does on the field, once he put his mind to it, he knocked it out of his way.

"Ricky is a great, great kid, and he did what we want all of our kids to do, and that's come here, better yourself, do the best you can and walk out of here having made the best of your time."

The ironic part, though, and perhaps the funniest part, is that a young man who might not have put academics at the front of his life during high school, has given much of his dedication to bettering that part of himself. And it won't even be a week after he graduates in May, where he's going to be enrolled once again, this time in Summer school at Nebraska.

You won't hear Henry complain though, not one bit. He knows what's at the end of this road. He knows where he's been. This journey will for him, only get better each successive day.

"I can't wait to get there and I do think that I'm coming in at a great time. The staff, the players and everything just seems changed for the better," he said. "It's going to be a lot of fun. It's going to be great to finally be wearing a Nebraska jersey."

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