Sept. 14, 2011
By Bruce Madej
There aren't many football players who go on to play nine years in the pros. And there aren't many Michigan fans who won't remember the names of those players who have played that long.
Yet one name might escape the attention of those fans and the hype of the media. The player's name is Tony Henderson.
He was heavily recruited out of North Central High School in Indianapolis. He was hard-nosed, tough and talented defensive lineman who started 24 games for U-M during his four year career from 1991 to 1994, suffering an injury during his junior season that limited him to only three starts.
He was smart and affable, and not too much has changed for Henderson. He still lives in Indianapolis; he is still smart, easy to talk to and tough.
Now, he is not playing pro football anymore and he has a family -- wife Jennifer of four years, daughter Olivia (2) and son Jameson (1).
Henderson played professional football in the Arena Football League from 1996 to 2004.
"The players in the Arena League didn't get that much credit," said Henderson, who started his career with Arizona Rattlers. "There were some big-time players there from Notre Dame, USC and all the other big schools. I think many of us got a bum rap.
"When we won the championship in 1997, we beat Kurt Warner (who was playing for Iowa), who eventually went on to quarterback a Super Bowl championship NFL team," added Henderson. "In that game, I was able to get a few sacks and knock down a few of his passes too."
The difference in the indoor game didn't faze Henderson.
"One thing about the indoor game is that you are at the very bottom of the arena and it gets hot with little airflow," said Henderson. "The game is faster and you have to pay attention to the walls.
"If you don't pay attention to the walls, the wall will pay attention to you if you get what I'm saying."
Henderson still loves football and he can't seem to get it out of his blood. He is the sport performance and fitness specialist and the first-year head varsity football coach for T.C. Howe Community High School.
While his U-M experience is almost two decades behind him, Henderson's love for the Maize and Blue has not diminished.
"Billy Harris was recruiting me for Michigan and all Big 10 schools plus Georgia, Tennessee, Arizona State, UCLA, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and others were after me, including Army, Navy and Air Force.
"Up until then, all the males in my family went through the military and when they came from West Point to ask me to go to Army, my Mother told them I was going there."
Of course, that wasn't Tony's plan at all.
"I told my Mom I was going go a different direction," added Henderson. "I wanted to use my athletic skills to get an education, and that I did."
At Michigan, he won the Frederick Matthaei Award, given to the junior-to-be gridder that has displayed leadership, drive and achievement on the athletic field and in the classroom.
Now, Henderson's family and work takes much of his time, but he still manages to get to Ann Arbor for a game or two each year.
"I was up this past Saturday for the Michigan-Notre Dame game, and wow was that something," said Henderson. "We were in section 24 about halfway up next to the band and the noise, my ears are still ringing from the game. It was great."
He plans on getting back for at least one more game this year and this time he plans to bring his wife.
"I don't think my wife was happy with me Saturday," laughed Henderson. "I only had one ticket and I told her this game was going to be late and probably be a little crazy. So I told her I would take her later in the year when we could enjoy a few days in Ann Arbor."
That's Tony Henderson for sure -- still laughing and still smart. After all, it is definitely a perfect way for him to guarantee himself one more weekend in Ann Arbor.