A bright smile while in Knoxville turned into a Big Orange future for Corey Henderson.
The Evangelical (La.) Christian wide receiver checked out the Tennessee campus on Saturday and got the opportunity to sit down with coaches he’d been speaking with on the phone. Realizing the opportunity he has to get the football in the Volunteers’ offense, he jumped on the bus to be the first commitment at his position in the Orange & White’s 2016 class.
“Coming to Knoxville, Tennessee, for my first time, I was already there for the day with my 7-on-7 and I was already falling in love with the city itself,” Henderson told InsideTennessee. “Coming there to visit threw it over the top, especially talking to coach Azzanni. He told me everything I needed to hear. He told me I have a chance to play as a true freshman, which was a big plus for me.
“I love the facilities. The facilities was just awesome, every part of it blew my mind. Talking to coach (Butch) Jones, it just felt like I was at home. It didn’t feel like a visit to me. It felt like it was somewhere I’d been before. It felt like I knew the coaches as though they were my own coaches right now. That was something that I’ve been lacking from some of my other visits and other schools. I didn’t really feel comfortable to sit down with them. I felt like it was more of just a visit. This one I felt like I was actually at home. I really didn’t want to leave from down there. That was a real good feeling for me. It was easy to tell my parents that. Talking to them about it and me being that comfortable with the school and the campus really threw them over the top and they fell right in behind me. There hasn’t been any kind of resistance with it, so I’m all in with it.”
Junior day visits are essential to the process. Henderson’s time on his unofficial visit meant a great deal and had much to do with his declaration. He had also seen Arkansas and Louisiana State.
“It’s my best visit I’ve had so far,” he said. “I definitely feel loved by the coaches. This is a great experience. I’ve seen everything for the first time. I don’t need to come again really to make any decisions. I really kind of like it. I’m speechless. I love the town. I love the city. I love the state. It’s like my second time being here — I’ve been to Memphis, haven’t really been to Knoxville before.”
The staff in Knoxville pulled the trigger on the scholarship offer 2-3 weeks ago. Area recruiter Robert Gillespie gave Henderson the news before passing the phone over to wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni.
“I couldn’t believe I actually got offered by Tennessee,” Henderson said. “I actually watched them a lot because of watching them play against Florida a lot, LSU. It was amazing. Any kind of SEC school I get offered by is really going to hit me.”
Azzanni has already left an impression on the Bayou-based baller.
“Love him, love him, love him,” Henderson said. “I feel like I’ve been knowing him for awhile. I feel like I’ve been knowing him for longer than I have. I feel comfortable talking to him and just being around him.
“I feel like I’ll be good, and I feel like he’ll get me to the next level.”
The sit-down with Butch Jones helped Tennessee’s chances with signing Henderson as well.
“That conversation was wonderful,” Henderson said. “He asked me what I would like to major in when I get there. He asked me about what kind of offense we ran at Evangel and how I was rotating in at quarterback — because I play quarterback and receiver — and he asked me how did I switch out in that offense. I was just letting him know how everything works out between me and the starting quarterback and how I fit in in certain situations of the game.”
Names like Willie Gault, Cordarrelle Patterson, Carl Pickens and Donté Stallworth are part of a rich tradition of wide receivers to suit up for the Orange & White — a tradition that Henderson wants to be a part of.
“(Azzanni) showed me this video of The Wide Receiver U,” Henderson said. “That definitely threw me over the edge. You hear about the DBU and all the other U’s but hearing the Wide Receiver U, I really like that. I like the sound of that. I want to be a part of that.”
With the declaration over and done, Henderson can set his sights on accomplishing a goal.
“I feel like it’s going to help me become a better football player for my team and be able to pursue my goal and dream of winning a state championship because we haven’t been able to do that yet,” the Class of 2016 standout said. “I definitely would like to bring that powerhouse name brand back to Evangel. I want to prove a point to the city. It definitely helps me because I don’t have to worry about where I’m going or where I have to visit each weekend. I can just focus on getting better, going into the weight room and all those kinds of things to get better as a football team. It helps me take a load off my shoulders.”
To Tennessee fans that are worked up about a star rating or haven’t seen Henderson’s game film, he gave a scouting report on his game: “Every down I play fast no matter the situation. I’m always going to play fast. I try to take every opportunity to the house. I don’t look for first downs, I don’t look for anything short. Everything I get I try to take it to the house. Everything is a big play to me. If I can, I’ll make the best of it. If I can’t, I’m going to get ‘em the next play.”
Henderson reports 12 scholarship offers. He had told Arkansas he would visit for the Razorbacks’ spring game but told IT it is now “pointless to visit” Fayetteville and is “shutting it down.” The junior hopes to return to Rocky Top this weekend with his parents if they can get off work since he is on spring break.