Elijah Henderson took to the long road to a prominent spot in Clemson’s lineup.
According to his account, he stepped onto campus weighing 150 pounds soaking wet. Henderson stood out at Blue Ridge High School and earned a bid to play for the Tigers.
The redshirt junior walked into fall ball with eager eyes and lofty expectations. But found out quickly he had a long way to go before stepping up to the plate at Doug Kingsmore Stadium on game days.
“Most guys my size usually go the junior college route before jumping to major Division I, but I had a really good high school career and thought I would come in and make an impact,” Henderson said. “Well, I got around some guys that were much better than me at the time and I kind of lost my confidence.”
Henderson met with Clemson head coach Monte Lee at the end of fall ball in 2018 and learned he would redshirt his first season. Lee placed him on the developmental squad to put on weight.
After a full academic year in the weight room, Henderson jumped from 150 pounds to 175 and went to the Coastal Plains League for summer baseball where he started to gain confidence.
He hit .250 with a homer, two triples, six doubles, 16 RBIs, 25 runs and eight steals in 34 games that summer for the Forest City Owls and was named to the Coastal Plain League Select Team.
In the fall he continued to improve but only played in 19 games with eight starts in left field as a redshirt freshman in the spring of 2019. Henderson returned to the CPL and began to make significant strides in fall ball ahead of last season.
Lee noticed the progress Henderson had made and gave him a starting role before the 2020 campaign was cut short due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Elijah is one of the most versatile players on the team and can play multiple positions on the field,” Lee said. “He has come a long way, especially in his weight room development, and is a key component to our success this season.”
Henderson started all 17 games for the Tigers last season and hit 323 with 10 runs, seven doubles, 12 RBIs, a .435 slugging percentage, .456 on-base percentage, 13 walks, three hit-by-pitches and three steals. He led the team in doubles, on-base percentage, multiple-hit games (7) and two-out RBIs (10) and tied for the team lead in games, starts and steals with just six strikeouts.
Henderson credits his development to growing confidence coupled with commitment in the weight room.
“It definitely was a confidence boost, Coach Lee has always told me I had the same swing, and nothing really changed in my swing it’s just I have gotten physically stronger and faster,” he said.
This past week Clemson announced that Henderson, along with senior Kier Meredith earn co-MVP honors for the 2020 season.
Now Henderson looks to carry his confidence over onto the field as a team leader.
“I have matured a lot from a leadership standpoint, I try to get better every day in all facets of the game,” he said. “I think you will see a more mature me this spring and a guy that is ready to play.”
Clemson takes the field on opening weekend on Feb. 19, when it hosts Cincinnati in a three-game series at Doug Kingsmore Stadium.