And all that Chas

Sorry about the cliché, but it’s true: Punter Chas Henry really does get his kicks out of playing for the Florida Gators as a guy who makes the game fun in more ways than one.

In fact, he’s a little bit of a risk-taker and prankster, which can put him precariously close to the wrath of his coach. But while he’s fun-loving and sometimes the instigator of pranks which poke fun at others, he’s also quick to talk about his own foibles.

Like last year in the Hawaii game Henry inadvertently converted a rugby-right punt into a 17-yard run on fourth down and 16 yards to go. The 6-4, 227-pound senior from Dallas, Ga., thought it was fourth and eight, because he hadn’t been paying attention the play before when Florida’s offensive unit had lost eight more yards.

“I didn’t realize it was fourth-and-16,” Henry said sheepishly.

So at the snap, when the entire Hawaii punt return team began backpedaling and backpedaling—well, what’s a guy who played quarterback in high school and considers himself an athlete supposed to do?

Urban Meyer didn’t have in mind for Chas to run—the last thing he said to his punter having been, “You just make sure you punt the ball!”

Oops. Henry had taken off, thinking he was nearing the first-down marker, discovering the real one was 10 yards beyond that. Suddenly Chas became motivated out of desperation – “Oh boy, I’d better make this” – and did so.

By a yard.

“It’s a damn good thing you made it,” Urban said, giving Henry the evil eye.

Chas knows Urban’s wrath fairly well. After shanking several punts against Kentucky, he said Meyer told him he was “worse than a JV punter!” But Henry is resilient and, after a hamstring pull and an open date, got back on his game to enjoy a sensational season with a 43.4-yard average that included lots of directional punting with more than a dozen inside the opponents’ 20 and a net punt average of 41. He was a finalist for the Ray Guy Award last season with Georgia’s Drew Butler, who won it.

Because he only punted 34 times, Henry wasn’t eligible to be ranked by the NCAA, but his resume included a 58-yarder against Vandy last year and an average of 52.8 on four kicks against the Commodores, plus two over 50 yards for an average of 48.8 in the SEC title game against Alabama.

Henry’s punts often look high enough to bring rain, which is why he is high on the list as NFL scouts and will almost certainly be drafted next year. Had he wanted to, Henry could have probably declared for the draft this year, but in all likelihood made a wise choice because so many juniors came out this season.

Besides, he knows he’s in a hot spot and likes the camaraderie. Numbers don’t matter all that much to him.

“The number of punts don’t really matter to me,” said Henry, “because I know I’m playing on one of the greatest college football teams in history. That’s important to me – to help this team and contribute any way I can.”

Yes, he can punt, but he can do a lot more, too.

* * *

Off the field, it doesn’t take long being around Henry to appreciate his sense of humor and realize that he finds joy in the game and being around his teammates. On several occasions I’ve run across Chas in a Gainesville restaurant and found him most engaging, funny and none-to-serious about himself. It’s not unusual to see him hanging around with kicker Caleb Sturgis, one of his buddies. He and Sturgis are polar opposites.

If Henry were David Letterman (tall, funny, irreverent), then Sturgis would be Woody Allen (gifted, neurotic and sometimes moody). In other words, if Meyer had called Sturgis a “JV kicker,” Caleb may have retreated to his locker to hide for a week.

Sometimes, though, Henry instigates a little sideshow just so Caleb knows he must learn to handle the pressure. Meyer believes in that as well and will often make Sturgis hit successive field goals before allowing practice to end. Of course when he misses, Caleb is not real popular with his teammates.

Henry and lineman Mike Pouncey have collaborated on a few schemes.

“Mike will say to Caleb, ‘How many kicks are you going to miss this year?,’” Henry said. Caleb will tell Pouncey he doesn’t know – maybe a couple or so. And then, according to Henry, Pouncey will say, in jest, “Well, just let me know now so I know what days to miss practice.”

Make no mistake, though: Henry, Pouncey and teammates realize that Caleb’s strong leg is a weapon which is under-appreciated. And they don’t forget games like Arkansas 2009 when his 27-yard kick with no time remaining beat the Razorbacks on homecoming day and kept the Gators unbeaten.

Chas Henry’s life is more about just punting and pranks, however. He takes his job seriously as one of the nation’s top punters and being a second-team All-SEC selection (behind Butler) last season. In fact make that jobs with a “S,” because Henry punts, holds for field goals and extra points, and serves as an active emergency quarterback who has probably thrown more passes than anybody this spring. If necessary, Henry could also be the backup placekicker, because he booted a school-record 52-yarder at East Paulding High School in Dallas, Ga.

On most days, you’ll see No. 17 lined up with the defensive backs and working with Chuck Heater, throwing chum. And he does it with considerable skill. He even impressed the starting quarterback, John Brantley. Chas was both a punter/kicker and quarterback at East Paulding High School in Dallas who threw somewhere between 17 and 19 touchdowns passes – the records are a little fuzzy – after the coach left and the team dropped the spread his senior year.

“Chas isn’t bad,” said John Brantley. “I know he played quarterback in high school. He hasn’t lost too much of his throwing agility. He can spin it.”

Indeed, Henry’s passes spiral nicely. So how good was he? Well, it wouldn’t have mattered much about his quarterbacking future, “because I had already made up my mind I was going to Florida (to punt) and committed early.”

Although he goes to quarterback meetings and enjoys getting to toss the ball around — “every now and then it strikes up a high-school moment” — there is no identity crisis for Chas Henry. However, it would be nice to be rewarded by getting a shot in the spring game

“I told Coach (Scot) Loeffler,” Henry said with a twinkle in his eye, “if I’m going to go to all these meetings, I’d better get at least one or two plays.”

Opponents know about Henry’s arm and have to stay on guard against a fake-punt pass, but even that plays right into his scam. Chas will wait until the defensive coordinators come on the field and then put his arm on display. He can see them pointing at him, which he finds amusing. He makes an excellent decoy.

Henry is now under the watchful eye of a new special teams coach, D.J. Durkin, who he says “brings juice” and a freshness, but also realizes Meyer has his eye on him as well. What coaches are hoping they will get out of Henry are consistency and some leadership.

“Chas can do more as a leader,” said one assistant coach.

Earlier this week in a special teams drill, as the team was coming out of PAT/field goal work, Henry and his punt team took the field – minus one. No long snapper. Henry took blame for that, along with the missing long snapper, because it’s his job to count the players and set the line of scrimmage.

He is, in fact, the quarterback of the punt team.

Hey, that has kind of a nice right to it, right Chas?