If you talk to C.J. Henderson, you’ll be lucky to get three words out of him. But if you put him between the lines, his play will tell you everything you need to know.
The sophomore cornerback came to Florida a little raw at the position, but he has blossomed into one of the best in the SEC over the last two years.
That was on full display at Tennessee on Saturday night as he became the very definition of fast, physical and aggressive, a mantra the Gators’ coaching staff has been preaching since the day it arrived.
Henderson’s most impressive play of the game (and possibly of his career) came early in the second quarter, with the Vols still in manageable position to make a comeback.
Quarterback Jarrett Gaurantano hit his tight end Austin Pope wide open and he appeared to be home free as he sprinted down the sideline. Henderson just happened to be sprinting a little bit faster. He came all the way from the opposite side of the field to stop Pope just short of the goal line and send the ball rolling through the back of the end zone for a touchback.
Florida led 23-3 at the time, but a touchdown in that situation could have easily given Tennessee the boost it needed to get back in the game.
“That’s what we strive for,” said defensive coordinator Todd Grantham. “We always talk about giving relentless effort, and he saved seven points there. When you see that from one of your better players on your team, I think that helps get to other guys, ‘This is how I need to do it.’ And it kind of creates a standard in which you need to play.”
Henderson possesses insane speed, and several of his teammates have said he is by far the fastest guy they’ve ever played with, but that play took a lot more than just speed. That kind of drive comes from within.
He may not be a vocal leader, but he leads by example constantly. Before Marco Wilson went down with an ACL injury against Tennessee, those two stayed late after every practice to continue working, and soon others began to follow.
Now, it is an everyday routine for the position group.
The extra work he puts in does not go unnoticed, and Florida’s players were not surprised to see him make that kind of play on Saturday. David Reese said he’s seen Henderson do that exact same thing before in scrimmages. For him, it was just another day at the office.
“I think it not only has to do with his speed, but his heart,” said Feleipe Franks. “He practices the same as the way he plays. He’s out there doing that on the practice field. He’s one of those guys that you don’t get him too often. He’s one of those guys that gives full effort every single time, Monday through Thursday. Friday he’s dialed in on the walk-throughs. Saturday he’s doing the same exact thing he does on Monday. He’s one of those guys it’s like clockwork for him. He does it all the time.”
The Gators could benefit from more players following in Henderson’s footsteps.