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Henderson Prepared to Make His Move

"I just felt like athletically, physically and mentally that I was ready to take it to the next level," said Erin Henderson, above, whose brother, E.J., is a Minnesota Vikings linebacker.
"I just felt like athletically, physically and mentally that I was ready to take it to the next level," said Erin Henderson, above, whose brother, E.J., is a Minnesota Vikings linebacker. (By Preston Keres -- The Washington Post)
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By Katie Carrera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 26, 2008

Erin Henderson has received plenty of advice since he decided to forgo his senior season at the University of Maryland and declare for the NFL draft. Sure, he might benefit from another year starting for the Terrapins.

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And maybe that extra year would make him a first- or second-round pick rather than the third- or fourth-round selection he's projected to be this weekend. Henderson's comfortable with the maybes, though, and confident he's ready for the next step in his life.

"I just felt like athletically, physically and mentally that I was ready to take it to the next level," said Henderson, who will graduate with a communications degree after completing one last online course.

"Being able to graduate now was the other big thing," Henderson added. "People had talked to me about the nice schedule I could have next year to focus on football if I stayed. But why not finish and focus everything on football now?"

In 2007, he ranked ninth in the nation with 11.1 tackles per game as a junior, while leading the Terrapins with 59 solo tackles, 133 total , including 11 for a loss.

His left knee is fully recovered from the torn anterior cruciate ligament that forced him to miss the entire 2005 season, and after weeks of intense workouts in preparation for the NFL draft combine in February and future minicamps, the Aberdeen, Md., native says he's never felt better.

But because the injury limited Henderson to two collegiate seasons -- it has been just three years since he switched from his high school position of quarterback to linebacker -- some of his Maryland coaches wondered if the NFL was the right choice.

"In my opinion, he could have benefited from another year, just to learn more about the position," said Maryland linebackers coach Al Seamonson. "I do think his drive will make up for a lot though. He's able to assimilate different aspects of the position very quickly.

"He just has that burning desire to play at the next level."

Henderson's family knows all about the all-ACC linebacker's desire to reach the NFL. His older brother, E.J., who also went to Maryland and has spent the past five years as a linebacker for the Minnesota Vikings, had an inkling Henderson wouldn't put his professional career on hold for another year of college.

Going to the NFL "is all we've talked about since he went to Maryland," E.J. Henderson said, adding he isn't too worried about his brother's seemingly short time as a linebacker.

"He's pretty much as acclimated to linebacker as everyone else who will be coming out of college," E.J. Henderson said. "But he will go through a definite adjustment period to the speed and the type of players you're up against. Everyone was a starter, all-conference or the best in college and he's going to be starting over again."

It used to bother Henderson that he was almost always initially known as E.J's little brother, but now he takes it as a compliment when he's being compared to a player who led the Vikings in tackles four out of his five years in the NFL.

And it's that attitude that has earned Henderson even more respect from his older brother.

"He had to deal with a lot of questions that I didn't," E.J. Henderson said. "'Is he as fast as E.J?' or 'Is he as good as E.J?' Honestly, I think we're both a rangy type of backer, and I may have a little more lateral explosiveness, but he has more vertical explosiveness."

Erin Henderson knows he's lucky to have his brother to turn to for advice. And thanks to his brother, Henderson, unlike so many draft hopefuls, doesn't have to worry about the financial pressure of being drafted in a particular round.

"This whole situation would be more stressful in so many ways if it wasn't for E.J.," Henderson said. "I can get drafted out in the seventh round, and I'd still be okay because once I get out on the field it's football."

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