At the beginning of last season, things moved fast for K.J. Henry. After redshirting during the 2018 season, each play and rep was a blur for the Clemson defensive end as he saw his first significant college football action, and he did a little bit too much thinking on the field, trying to understand his assignment on every down as opposed to simply reacting to what the offense was doing.
But over the course of the season, as his knowledge of the defense continued to grow, Henry gained more confidence and it allowed him to play freer and more instinctively. He finished the 2019 season with 22 tackles (4.5 for loss), two sacks and three pass breakups in 350 snaps across 15 games.
“If I didn’t have confidence in myself, then I wouldn’t have made any plays,” Henry said, reflecting on last season. “So definitely the growth through the season, from beginning to end, my confidence grew in me. My teammates had more confidence in me and that helped me play a lot better, too. So, my confidence, that comes into how you play, how fast you play, all those things.”
Henry’s confidence showed up during the nine practices Clemson had in its limited spring this year before everything was shut down due to COVID-19.
Now in his third year at Clemson as a redshirt sophomore, it is all starting to come together for Henry, who knows his role on the defense, what defensive coordinator Brent Venables wants him to do and is able to better read offenses and recognize their backfield sets.
“I just have more confidence in what I’m doing,” Henry said. “The game’s starting to slow down. I’m starting to be able to read different things now. I don’t necessarily have to worry about the playbook as much, but just grow my IQ. So, that’s been a great part so far.”
Looking ahead to the 2020 season, Henry will be counted on as one of the veteran leaders of Clemson’s defensive end group, along with Justin Foster and Xavier Thomas.
A natural, vocal leader, Henry has no problem being a guy that younger defensive ends like Myles Murphy and Greg Williams can look up to and learn from.
“Anybody knows me, I’m always talking,” Henry said. “I feel like I’ve been a leader ever since I was young, but wasn’t necessarily as vocal my first couple of years. But it’s definitely something that I’m used to, very confident in. Now being here for my third year, only having Myles really under me, the communication’s just there. That’s really been the easiest thing. Myles has been great so far for us, and Greg, all those young guys, they’ve been great. So, it’s been really easy from a leadership standpoint. Now it’s just the communication on a day-to-day basis, just making sure we’re all on the same page. But it’s been very comfortable.”
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