Henderson, Vikings on quest to restore respect

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 6, 2000

Thad Henderson wants respect, for Warren Central and himself. The best way to accomplish both, he said, is to beat Madison Central tonight.

“We won last week and we still dropped in the poll,” the 6-foot-2, 280-pound senior defensive lineman said, shaking his head.

The Vikings (6-0, 2-0 Region 2-5A) fell from No. 8 to No. 9 in the Mississippi Associated Press poll this week even though they beat Callaway 35-0 and a team ahead of them, then-No. 4 Clarksdale, was beaten. The Jaguars (5-1, 2-0), on the other hand, beat Vicksburg 40-14 and moved up to No. 4.

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“That shows they don’t have any respect for us,” he said. “I know they don’t think we’ll win.”

Henderson wants nothing more than to beat the defending state champions in his last season at WC. He has lost all three times hes faced MC. The Jaguars have beaten WC five straight seasons.

“This is the biggest one,” Henderson said when asked how important tonight’s game is to him. “I’ve been ready all year.”

Not just because the winner is virtually assured of home-field advantage in the playoffs. A victory at Madison Central, which has never lost a regional game at home and is 36-1 overall against region foes, would help WC re-establish itself as one of the top programs in the state.

Henderson wants to help leave that legacy with the upcoming players at WC.

And considering the number of sophomore starters and the undefeated eighth- and ninth-grade teams, it’s a good bet that any success this season would be continued for years to come.

“It would change the whole program around again,” said Henderson, who was in junior high when the Vikings won the Class 5A state championship in 1994. WC has been to the playoffs a 5A-record 15 straight years, but it hasn’t advanced to the second round since 1995.

Having a good game against one of the top offensive lines in the state could also boost Henderson’s status with recruiters. He’s always the first player opposing coaches mention when they talk about WC’s defense. MC coach Mike Justice singled him out when he said WC’s “defense is better than it’s been” the last few years.

But Henderson has received very little attention from college coaches.

A good game against MC’s line, which features tackles Chris Spencer (315), the most highly touted lineman in the state, and Jermaine Spencer (320), could open their eyes.

Henderson said it will be tough though, especially at MC.

“They hold a lot, but we don’t expect to get any calls,” he said.

WC coach Robert Morgan said “the referees sometimes seem intimidated” by Justice.

But Henderson said he wouldn’t get caught up in worrying about that. He’s too focused on looking at this as a proving ground.

“(Recruiters) always feel like they’ve got the best offensive line, but I feel like we’ve got the best defensive tackles,” Henderson said of himself and Corey Nettle.

Morgan agrees. He noted one play last week where Henderson went through five linemen to make a tackle.

“Thad moved the whole durn stack back,” Morgan said, laughing. “When he tackles someone, it hurts. He’s awesome.”

Henderson, who is soft-spoken and easy-going off the field, said he’s just doing the fundmentals.

“When they teach you to tackle, they said to run through the man that’s what I do,” he said.

MC back Bobo Brown provides a challenge because “he runs so hard,” Henderson said, pointing out that Brown is a powerlifter.

Brown already has 967 yards and 13 touchdowns on 135 carries and wide receiver Mike Espy has 26 catches for 351 yards and four scores. Morgan said Brown and Espy are tough, but it helps to know who’s getting the ball.

“They’re not quite as versatile this year,” Morgan said.

Brown is a punishing runner.

“He’s been a dominating back for three years,” Morgan said.

He said the Vikings won’t kick to Espy.

“If we do, it was a mistake,” he said.

WC relies on fullback John Hicks and several tailbacks, including Pat Minor, Omar Jackson, Leonard Harris and Perry McGee.

Morgan sees the recipe for success in his team.

“Any time we’ve had our young players mesh with the middle and older ones, we’ve had a great football team,” he said, recalling that trait in the ’88 squad that won the state title.

“This kind of game creates a lot of excitement. Our players realize what we could accomplish with this one.”