JOHN HENDERSON:Outland Trophy Winner
Tennessee’s John Henderson was presented with the Outland Trophy in Omaha, Nebraska on January 10, 2001, recognizing him as the nation’s most outstanding interior lineman for the 2000 season.
Published: Spring 2001
he trophy was presented to the junior defensive tackle at Omaha’s fourth annual Outland Trophy Dinner. “Winning the Outland Trophy is a tremendous honor for John and one that he truly deserves,” said Tennessee head coach Phillip Fulmer, who accompanied Henderson to Omaha. “He’s played as well as any defensive lineman we’ve had at Tennessee in a long, long time. Obviously, we are very excited about the great news that John plans to return to the 2001 season.”
Henderson’s mother, Bridgett, and his father, John Smith, along with his high school coach, Maurice Fitzgerald, were also in attendance at the Doubletree Hotel in Omaha.
Henderson, who announced last month that he will return for his senior season, has a chance to become the first two-time winner of the award since Nebraska’s Dave Rimington won it in back-to-back seasons in 1981-82.
“I still think I can reach the top,” said Henderson. “There’s more to accomplish. It’s a great honor. This award is the result of a lot of hard work and dedication.”
The Outland Trophy is the most prestigious in a series of honors received by Henderson, who has been named a first-team All-America by three different sources and was named the Associated Press SEC Defensive Player of the year.
The Nashville native finished the season with a SEC-leading 12 sacks and 21 tackles for loss and ranked third on the Vol defense with 71 total tackles. His 12 sacks are third on the Tennessee single-season list, trailing only Reggie White’s 15 in 1983 and Jonathan Brown, who had 13.5 in 1997. Henderson was a key factor in the UT rush defense which ranked third nationally, allowing just 74.3 yards per game.
“I personally think he can be as good as anybody we’ve had at Tennessee,’’ Fulmer said. The coach added, “That includes Reggie White, the NFL’s career sacks leader”.
Henderson becomes Tennessee’s second Outland Trophy winner, joining middle guard Steve DeLong, a College Football Hall of Famer, who won the award in 1964. DeLong’s son, Keith, was an All-America linebacker at Tennessee in the late 1980s.
The Outland Trophy, presented annually since 1946, is the third oldest award in major college football. It is awarded to the best interior lineman in college football and named after the late Dr. John Outland, an All-America lineman at Penn.
WHO IS JOHN HENDERSON?
(Text taken from an article in The Tennessean by Chris Low)
The perfectionist in John Henderson is legendary to those who know him best.
As Tennessee’s most dominant defensive lineman since Reggie White, he has become a devout student of the game.
Sure, he’s 6 feet 7 and 290 pounds, but it’s his polished technique and commitment to playing with better pad leverage that have elevated him into one of college football’s most feared players.
“Some guys sit in the room and look at film,” Tennessee defensive tackles coach Dan Brooks said. “John studies the film. He studies the guy he’s going to line up against, studies the schemes and what’s going to happen to him. He soaks it in.”
Away from the field, it’s no different. His attention to detail is unwavering.
In fact, if this mountain of a man weren’t tossing around quarterbacks, he probably would be working somewhere as an interior decorator or maybe even running his own cleaning service.
Some people play golf to relax. Others go fishing. Henderson likes to clean.
“I remember going to his dorm room a couple of years ago, and it was like the Holiday Inn,” quipped Maurice Fitzgerald, who coached Henderson at Nashville’s Pearl-Cohn High and has know him since he was 12. “He’s the only kid I know of who had one towel to wipe your hands on and another towel for decoration. His room was spotless. It looked like a picture.”
Steven Marsh, a sophomore safety for the Vols, was Henderson’s suitemate as a freshman. Marsh frequently would return to campus from weekend trips home to find his room sparkling clean and totally rearranged.
“Each one of those beds weighed a couple hundred pounds, and they would be switched around and the room all cleaned up.” said Marsh, the smile on his face spreading as he recounted the stories. “It just shows you what kind of guy John is. He’s always giving.”
As a 12-year-old, Henderson played on one of Fitzgerald’s youth all-star basketball teams. It didn’t take Fitzgerald long to realize there was something special about Henderson.
The team was playing the sub-state tournament out of town and staying at a hotel. The kids gathered in the lobby one morning as instructed, but Henderson was nowhere to be found.
“I started to get mad,” Fitzgerald said. “The kids all said he was still asleep, so I go charging up to the room he was staying in. There he was, making up all the beds.
“I’m like, ‘What are you doing?’ He says, ‘Coach, my mother always told me that when you get out of your bed every morning, you make it up. I’m just doing what I’m supposed to.’
“It didn’t matter to John that it was a hotel. That’s just the way he was raised.”
To this day, Henderson still listens with reverence to what his mother, Bridgett Henderson, has to say. It’s the chief reason he expects to return for his senior season at Tennessee.
She wants to see him get his degree.
“Right now, I’ll be back next year.” Henderson said in his first public comments about his future. “My mom really wants me to graduate, and that’s important to me. But we’re still going to sit down and look at all the factors. That’s how it will go.
“But, basically, I’m going to do what my mom wants me to do.”
“I want him to get all the education he can get,”she said. “That’s what I want him to do. I’ll leave it at that, but I don’t know what he’s going to do.”
“I think John is one of those guys who could be one of the first two or three players picked in the entire draft if he comes back for another year of college,” said Fulmer, who calls Henderson the best defensive tackle he has seen in the SEC since Auburn’s Tracy Rocker. Rocker was a third-round pick by the Redskins in 1989.
Although Henderson has always lived with his mother, Bridgett, he maintains an extremely close relationship with his father, John Smith. In fact, Smith lives right around the corner from Adelphia Coliseum.
The two lift weights together and have been known to consume mass quantities of pizza. And, yes, they also have cleaning sessions.
“They’re almost like brothers when you see them together,” Bridgett said.
Most of Henderson’s family members, as well as his closest friends and many of his teammates, know him simply as “Joe.”
It’s a name his grandmother gave him when he was just a baby; sort of a tribute to her husband -- Henderson’s grandfather and Bridgett’s father.
The late Joe Lee Henderson was a blues singer and used to sing with the likes of B.B. King. But he died suddenly at 27 after suffering a heart attack while getting ready for a show at Municipal Auditorium.
Henderson never knew his grandfather, but he has come to know him through his music and proudly carries his name. Henderson took all of Joe Lee’s records with him to Knoxville.
“John knows all of his songs by heart and sings them all the time,” Bridgett said.
Henderson has become one of the most popular Vols among the fans. Following last Saturday’s win over Kentucky, he was besieged by autograph seekers when he emerged from the locker room.
He could have ducked out the back way, but didn’t. Instead, he signed until everyone was gone.
“He had to be there for 45 minutes because I was waiting on him,” Fitzgerald said. “It was cold, too, and he didn’t have on a coat, hat, nothing. But he stood there and signed every last one.”
It’s a side Henderson doesn’t show on the field, where he’s vocal, intense and demanding of his teammates.
And most of all, he wreaks havoc on opposing quarterbacks. His 10 sacks lead the SEC, and he has done it despi