Henry and Thomas look to be future bookends on Clemson's D-line
K.J. Henry kept his cards close to the vest during his recruitment, not letting on to which school he would choose. The Clemmons (N.C.) five-star defensive end talked up his top schools leading up to the Shrine Bowl last week, so on the outside, there was a lot of speculation and scuttlebutt about where he might go.
Henry, though, knew that he was headed to Clemson even before practices for the Shrine Bowl began on Dec. 11.
“Honestly, I had decided that Clemson was the place for me before I went to the Shrine Bowl,” Henry told The Clemson Insider. “There were some mix-arounds with different schools, and Clemson just stayed the course. When it all came down to it, and talking with Dad before I went, that was kind of my decision. It just held true the entire week talking to different recruits and stuff. But definitely before the Shrine Bowl, Clemson was a thought to be.”
Still, Henry only divulged his decision to two people prior to Wednesday’s announcement: his dad and his coach. Even the contending coaches didn’t know for sure what his choice would be. So, there was a lot of anticipation for Henry’s live reveal during a ceremony televised on ESPNU.
“My mom, family members didn’t know,” Henry said. “I didn’t tell any coaches. I had a little fun in that. Just wanted to leave more suspense. I got to see a lot of coaches’ true colors when it got down to the wire, just seeing how much they really wanted me and stuff like that. Obviously Clemson, coach Swinney and his crew did a great job in that time. But at the same time, I didn’t want to tell anybody. I kind of kept it to myself so I wouldn’t have to be telling this person to keep it a secret from this one. So I just kept it inside.”
Dabo Swinney, Brent Venables and Todd Bates were of course elated after Henry selected and signed with the Tigers over finalists Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and Virginia Tech.
“I FaceTimed coach Bates. He was ecstatic,” Henry said. “He was in the room with all the other coaches, and they were cheering and they were happy. So that was good. I got to talk to coach Venables for a little bit. He was obviously excited, more than his usual excitement as you can imagine. I called coach Swinney a little bit after that, and he was telling me how he had just gotten off the practice field. He ended up watching the thing by himself in his office. He kind of didn’t want to talk to anybody just to see how it went, and he told me he jumped up and was very excited. So definitely all good reactions from the coaches.”
Fellow five-star Clemson signee Xavier Thomas was just as excited about Henry’s decision as anyone, knowing they have the chance to be a fearsome tandem on the ends of Clemson’s defensive line in the future.
“He was just happy,” Henry said. “He knows these next three or four years are going to be big for both of us. They’re calling us a dynamic duo, so we’ve got to be ready to show some people what we can do. But definitely teaming up with a guy like X is going to be great for these next couple years.”
Thomas worked to help the Tigers recruit Henry during the process, and Henry said his friendship with Thomas was a major factor in his decision.
“Definitely the relationship that I’ve built with him and knowing the success we can have in the next couple years, that definitely played a big role,” Henry said. “No doubt about it.”
Henry is looking forward to building an even better bond with Thomas as a Tiger.
“I think it’s going to grow a lot,” Henry said of their relationship. “I think for me and him, I haven’t really gotten to meet as much of his family as he has mine, so I’ll be excited to meet his little sister and his mom. I really want to meet them. We’ve been close this entire process. He texted me nothing but good things before I even decided about wherever I wanted to go. So just knowing that we’ll be together and be able to build that bond will be fun.”
Both players are avid Madden video game enthusiasts, so Henry says Thomas will have plenty of opportunities to redeem himself after their past battles.
“Don’t get me wrong. He’s a great Madden player, he’s just not up to my level,” Henry joked. “So a lot of chances for him to try and get his face back.”
Henry said he and Thomas will have to come up with a nickname for the duo in the future after they show what they can do.
“We’ll definitely have to do that,” he said. “Obviously we’ll have to prove ourselves first, I think that’s first and foremost. But there’s no doubt in my mind that we’ll do so, so I think once we get to that point, we’ll be able to play with it. I think it will be a fun college experience.”