Usually, it’s a coach that makes the redshirt decisions in college football. But that wasn’t the case with Clemson defensive end K.J. Henry.
Henry played 39 total snaps in four games across the first six games of the 2018 season before approaching Dabo Swinney after the Wake Forest game in early October and letting him know that he wanted to redshirt.
The reason? Henry felt he wasn’t fully ready to contribute and would benefit from a year sitting back and learning behind the Power Rangers.
“I knew coming in that I wasn’t where I wanted to be, if I wanted to be a successful football player on this level,” Henry said this week, reflecting on his redshirt decision. “And obviously having the best defensive line arguably ever sitting in front of me and teaching me different things off the field, I knew I had to get better if I was going to be prepared when they passed the torch down next year.
“So, that was really the mindset behind redshirting last year. I knew it was for me and something that I needed to do to grow, and as far as this year, I’m just trying to take every opportunity I can to help the team.”
Henry was a consensus five-star prospect coming out of West Forsyth High School in Clemmons, North Carolina, and was ranked as high as the No. 6 overall prospect nationally in the 2018 class by ESPN.
So, Swinney was naturally surprised when a player as highly touted as Henry approached him about redshirting.
“He was kind of shocked,” Henry recalled. “I think it kind of caught him off guard to know that was something I was thinking about. But he was definitely understanding. He was happy to see that I was very self-aware of where I was.”
Swinney agreed to allow Henry to redshirt last season — as long as the Tigers did not sustain any injuries at defensive end.
“We had an agreement,” Henry said. “I felt like I was a team guy first, so if people were to go down and what not, that redshirt year wouldn’t be here and I was going to step up and do what I needed for the team. But that didn’t happen, and it all worked out obviously.”
Henry’s redshirt year is already starting to pay dividends in 2019 with his emergence as an important cog in Clemson’s five-man rotation at D-end.
Through the first three games of this season, the Winston-Salem native has played 77 snaps (38 more than he played a year ago) while logging four total tackles including 1.5 for loss and 1.5 sacks.
Last Saturday in Clemson’s 41-6 win at Syracuse, Henry recorded a tackle, a half-sack and a pass breakup.
Henry says the key to his early success is settling into his role on Brent Venables’ defense after trying too hard in the Tigers’ first two games against Georgia Tech and Texas A&M.
“It’s just doing my job. It showed up Saturday,” Henry said. “I think the first two games, I was still trying to make too many plays and do too much. But then when I start to play within the scheme of Coach Venables, he’s going to set us up to all be successful.
“So, I think Saturday was the first showing of me just doing my job and playing within the scheme, and it showed up to doing some good things.”
Henry will try to keep up the good work on Saturday when Clemson faces Charlotte – the school that his father, Keith, served as the running backs coach for from 2017-’18 before joining Western Carolina’s staff as an assistant coach (nickelbacks) and special teams coordinator this past March.
K.J. admits he is disappointed that his dad isn’t still at Charlotte and they won’t be able to go head-to-head Saturday at Death Valley.
“I wish he was over there and I wish I really could make it more personal,” Henry said, smiling. “That’s definitely something we were talking about a couple years ago when the schedule came out. So, I’m disappointed. I wish he was still over there.”
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