Triple H with Henry

Despite his recent award nomination, Jay Henry might be the most underrated player in what is shaping into West Virginia's deepest linebacking unit under sixth-year head coach Rich Rodriguez -- making him a perfect fit for the newfound motto of "Stay Humble, Stay Hungry."

Henry became one of 42 defensive players named to the 2006 Lott Trophy Watch List on March 27. The award -- the first in college football to equally recognize athletic performance and the personal character attributes -- fits the senior to a ‘T'. The 6-2, 225-pounder isn't the biggest or most physically talented linebacker. But he simply makes plays with football smarts and game speed, intangibles largely immeasurable until one is on the field.

"I am not the fastest guy, but I like to think I play fast and can get to the ball fast," Henry said. "Hopefully, our whole defense can play like that, know what we are doing and get to the right spots. Speed, I don't know about 40s and all that stuff, but I think it is knowing what you are doing and being able to get there regardless of how fast you are on the field."

Henry has proven adept, finishing fourth on the team with 62 tackles last year. He tallied two sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss for 18 yards and also had WVU's only fumble return last season, a 14-yarder against Maryland that effectively set up a field goal that sealed the game after the Terrapins had rallied. That nose for plays cannot be taught, and Henry, a product of one of the most successful high school programs in the nation in Jenks, Okla., has always possessed that ability.

Add in his 4.0 grade point average in finance and his first-team honors as Academic All-American by ESPN the Magazine and the College Sports Information Directors Association, and Henry is a model player for the Lott Trophy, given to college football's Defensive IMPACT Player of the Year. Sponsored by The Pacific Club IMPACT Foundation, the third-year award is given to a player who exhibits the same characteristics former NFL defensive back and Hall-of-Famer Ronnie Lott embodied during his distinguished career: Integrity, Maturity, Performance, Academics, Community and Tenacity.

Henry should be a better player this season than last, not just because he has another year, but because he will be fresher. The numbers might not show it, because of the increase in players, but the entire linebacking corps is expected to be able to play faster and fresher due to the additions of players like Barry Wright and the returns of the majority of letter winners from last season.

"I think we are deeper," Henry said. "We miss (Jeff) Noechel, but every guy other than that that was here has another year under their belt. I think we are certainly deeper. And we play hard. That's the biggest thing. We play hard and the guys are getting after it. We are just trying to get better now and have a better season at linebacker than we did last year."

Having a more experienced and deeper defensive front will also help. The front should free players like Henry, Marc Magro, Wright and Boo McLee to make plays. The latter played very well against No. 7 Georgia in the 38-35 Sugar Bowl win, while Magro, Henry notes, is playing in a similar mold to him by showing great knowledge of the defense and a knack for finding the creases between blockers to make plays.

"Marc is a great player," Henry said. "He is tough in the middle and he makes plays out there. Boo is Boo, he is a linebacker, and that is all there is to it. Barry Wright, the transfer, is coming along well. He is an incredible athlete. So we will see when the season starts. But I like the way we are playing right now."

West Virginia can further add to that depth with Mortty Ivy, who batted down four passes in Wednesday's practice, and Bobby Hathaway. Ivy is another of the more rangy players the Mountaineers have recruited for the position of late, and, at 6-3 and 230 pounds, is built along the lines of Johnny Holmes (6-2, 220 pounds), a former outside linebacker who has been moved into the spur and bandit safety slots. Hathaway is a major contributor on special teams and will see considerable time, while newcomers like Ovid Goulbourne and in-state natives Zac Cooper and Reed Williams add depth. (Remember to click on a player's name for more information.)

"We played six or seven guys last year and linebackers coach and defensive coordinator (Jeff) Casteel plans to do that again this year," Henry said. "We will roll guys in and out to stay fresh. We can send other units in that can play just as well as the first unit. We did that last year and hopefully we can do just as good this year."


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