Former Maryland linebacker E.J. Henderson was selected as part of the 2020 College Football Hall of Fame class — but this honor doesn’t go to just anyone.
He’ll be just the seventh Terp to be inducted and the first since Stan Jones in 2000. Only 0.02 percent of college football players and coaches make it into the Hall of Fame.
“It worked out, it definitely did,” Henderson said of his football career as a whole on Glenn Clark Radio March 12. “All the fans, I did it for y’all,” he added.
Henderson received All-American and ACC Defensive Player of the Year honors during his junior (2001) and senior (2002) seasons. As a senior, he was named ACC Player of the Year and earned the Bednarik and Butkus Awards.
Head coach Ralph Friedgen took over the team in 2001. After going 10-12 from 1999-2000, the Terps finished 2001 with a 10-1 regular-season mark.
One of Henderson’s favorite memories at Maryland was when Maryland beat Clemson, 37-20, in College Park, Md., which clinched at least a share of the ACC championship for the Terps.
“That was kind of our goal. To come from 3-8 and 5-6 to now beating Clemson at home, that’s what you see on TV. The crowd rushes, you win the championship — that was it for me,” Henderson said.
The ACC title allowed Maryland to play in the Orange Bowl, where the Terps dropped only their second game of the season. They lost, 56-23, to Florida.
“I think that’s when things shifted. The culture shifted, we put up all those wins, made it to a BCS bowl back then. And that kind of shifted it from there,” Henderson said of the 2001 season.
Henderson thought about entering the NFL Draft after that, but returned to College Park.
“After my junior year, I actually considered coming out, but I had to have back surgery … so I came back for my senior year,” Henderson said.
But Henderson’s football journey wasn’t always pointing toward being a College Football Hall of Famer.
“My first year was super rough, being a redshirt freshman,” Henderson said. “Second year, still had some frustrations, even talked to my dad a couple times about transferring. … He talked me off the ledge.”
Despite a slow start to his career, Henderson used his last two seasons to cement himself as a Terp legend. He now ranks second in school history in tackles.
Henderson was drafted in the second round (No. 40 overall) in the 2003 NFL Draft. He played nine years in the league, all with the Vikings, racking up 761 tackles (67 for loss) and 15.5 sacks in 125 games as a middle linebacker.
Henderson played with his brother, Erin, in Minnesota from 2008-2011. Like E.J., Erin went to Aberdeen High School and played linebacker at Maryland.
“Two kids from Aberdeen both go to Maryland and end up starting in the NFL on the same team in Minnesota, that’s super rare,” E.J. Henderson said.
Henderson was surprised to get the letter and football in the mail informing him of the selection, he said, but he’s able to recognize the steps he took for his successful career to pan out.
“What I tell kids is keep your head down, grind, play multiple sports. … Follow a program, whatever the program is,” Henderson said. “… There’s going to be a lot of setbacks — it might not be pretty at first — but you never know. It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.”
To hear more from Henderson, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Maryland Athletics