Lake Braddock junior quarterback Caleb Henderson and his father, Eric, left home at 2 a.m. Wednesday with the intention of visiting several colleges in the coming days. They had plans to drop in on several more in the coming weeks.
But after visiting Chapel Hill, N.C., that day, Caleb Henderson soon ended up chucking the travel itinerary like an out-of-bounds pass over a blanketed receiver. On Thursday evening he informed North Carolina, a school that had not offered him a scholarship before Wednesday, that he was committing to the Tar Heels.
The 6-foot-4, 226-pound Henderson, rated by Rivals.com as the country’s 65th-best prospect at any position, had several offers, including from Maryland, Virginia, Miami, Michigan State, Purdue, Illinois, Boston College and Marshall.
Henderson said he had no idea when he and his father were driving from Duke to Chapel Hill that he was about to be wowed by the Tar Heels on his second visit to the campus. Henderson previously had established a relationship with UNC offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Blake Anderson and was looking forward to seeing him again, but he certainly had no plans to commit to the school.
“It pretty much just turned out to be the place,” Henderson said late Thursday night after finishing his dishwashing duties at home. “I felt really comfortable with the coaches, really comfortable with the staff and I could picture myself there.”
There were familiar faces in Chapel Hill. The Tar Heels’ starting quarterback is West Springfield graduate Bryn Renner, a 2008 All-Met whose father, Bill, is a former Lake Braddock assistant. Lake Braddock graduate Nick Weiler is a sophomore punter-kicker in the UNC program.
“Bryn pretty much just said, ‘Look, I’ve been here for four years and I’ve been through two different head coaches and three different offensive coordinators and I’m still in love with the school. That has to say something about the school itself,’” Henderson said. “I felt it, too.”
“There were some connections there maybe a little deeper than some of the other programs,” Eric Henderson said. “I think just walking on campus and seeing the energy of the school and having a chance to spend some time with the coaches and the players kind of tipped it for him.”
When the Hendersons had some time to themselves in a football office at Chapel Hill that day, Caleb said that he might have found what he was looking for. “I think this is it,” he told his father.
They talked about it on the drive back to Northern Virginia and discussed it with Caleb’s mother, Stacey, when they got home. Eric Henderson stressed that this was more than just having a feeling about a place. The decision had to be more substantive than that. But Caleb rattled off the reasons of why it was a good fit.
“It all sounded pretty reasonable,” Eric Henderson said. “I told him that he’s going to have to call all these coaches [from other schools] that have invested so much time and effort in him and I thought maybe that would kind of make him think twice.”
It didn’t. The Hendersons had planned to visit Virginia Tech on Friday and Tennessee on Saturday, but when Henderson got home from a workout late Thursday afternoon he said that he wanted to call UNC Coach Larry Fedora and the coaches from the schools whose offers he was declining.
It has been an eventful year for Henderson, who transferred to Lake Braddock from West Potomac last April. In his first season with the Bruins, Henderson completed 210 of 327 passes for 2,435 yards and 19 touchdowns with 10 interceptions. He also rushed 103 times for 453 yards and nine TDs in pacing the team to an unbeaten record in the Virginia AAA Patriot District. Lake Braddock (8-3) lost to eventual Northern Region champion Oakton, 20-13, in the first round of the Division 6 region playoffs.
At UNC, Henderson plans to study sociology and political science with the eventual goal of becoming an FBI or CIA agent after his football career. “If I can get paid $2 million to hold a clipboard, that would be ideal,” he joked, referring to being at least a backup in the NFL.
For now, though, he is content to be a future quarterback at UNC.
“I definitely feel like I can exhale now and really focus on my team and bringing my team as far as we can go with the ultimate dream of a state championship,” Henderson said. “We have a great team this year and everyone coming back. I’m just really excited to start the off-season.”
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