Justin Henry ready for Rebs to take next step

Justin Henry feels as badly as anyone that Ole Miss has fallen one game short of Omaha the past two seasons. And like everybody else, he'd like to change that this June and make it all the way.

Henry, a fourth-year junior, has been a part of three of the most successful Ole Miss baseball teams in years, playing on teams that hosted three NCAA Regionals and two Super Regionals in his time here.

That first season Henry sat out the games as a redshirt. Since then he's been one of the main cogs in a well-oiled Rebel baseball machine that's done some special things – except two. Make it to the College World Series and win a national championship.

Justin, the team captain last year and this year and certainly a player the others look up to, says he's worked to become the best player he can to help this team achieve its goals.

"I stayed here over the summer and worked hard in the fall, especially from a strength standpoint," said the Rebels' returning second baseman, still tall and what one might call fairly lean, but stronger than before at 6-foot-3 and 190 pounds. "I've gotten a little bigger and put a little more weight on. It was something I needed to do."

But it's his experience at this level of baseball – four years in it, three years playing it – that's helped him the most in his overall improvement.

"Every time you see more pitching and play more games at this level, you feel more comfortable," he said. "You feel like you're able to play better than you did the year before. I think I definitely feel that way."

Henry stepped in when Cooper Osteen stepped out after his playing days were over following the 2005 campaign. Henry appeared in 57 games as a redshirt freshman in that '05 season, often as a pinch runner. He made 18 starts at DH with one start at first base and one at second.

In 2006 he started 64 games, batted .332 with 30 RBI, mainly in the leadoff spot, and was named to the All-SEC Tournament team as the Rebels won that event in Hoover, Ala.

This year he will once again team up with all-star shortstop Zack Cozart for one of the best middle infields certainly in the SEC but in all of college baseball as well.

"We definitely want to get better (as an infield tandem)," Henry said. "Zack's probably the best shortstop in the country, for sure the best defensive shortstop in the country. It's exciting to play with him again and build on one of the things (Ole Miss has) been known for over the years and that's good defense. There's always room to get better, and we'll work toward that to do even better than we did last year."

Henry says this year's version of the Rebels looks to have greater depth than any team he's seen here in four seasons.

"I think it is the deepest," he said. "Top to bottom when we intrasquad we have two guys at every position that are really quality players. Not that the guys who were here in the past haven't been. But the talent looks to be getting better and better. As far as every position, I do believe it's the deepest I've seen it."

One of the new, talented players is a guy Justin's known his whole life. Little brother Jordan is now on the Rebel squad, a freshman outfielder with blazing speed, and Justin is happy about him being in Oxford.

"It's fun having him here," said Justin of Jordan, 6-feet tall and 160 pounds. "At first it was a little strange seeing him around so much. But it's exciting. Not a lot of people get to say they play college baseball with their brother. My parents certainly enjoy it."

Tom and Teresa Henry of Vicksburg have had to do what parents do when their kids are playing two different sports, or are two different ages or, as in the Henry's case, playing the same sport but in two different locations. While Justin's been here and Jordan's been playing for the Vicksburg High Gators, they divided up their efforts and at least one of them tried to be there for all their sons' games.

"They've been splitting up with one going one place and one going another a lot of the time," Justin said. "I think they'll enjoy us playing together here more than anybody else will."

Justin hopes his parents, and all Rebel fans, will see a better Justin Henry than they've seen before. From a hitting standpoint, he works daily to improve his effectiveness at the plate.

"I work on becoming more consistent," he said. "I've put together a couple of good years here. But as a hitter you have good streaks and bad streaks. As a hitter you want to eliminate the bad streaks as much as possible and make them short if you do have them, and prolong the good streaks. So the main thing I'm working on in that regard is consistency."

OM Spirit Top Stories