Flirting with commitment
Pulaski Academy senior Hunter Henry on courting college football programs from Alabama to Arkansas.
Imagine you’re a teen. You’ve just come home from your first date ever, and sitting there waiting with plenty questions about your night is dear old dad. Mildly embarrassing, totally understandable. Naturally, you expect the scrutiny to wane over time. Except that it doesn’t.
After the next date, dear old uncle waits beside dad. The time after that, you also find the local reporter is interested in where you ate dinner. And every time after that, it seems more media join the growing scrum. Surreal, right?
A select group of high school football players actually aspire to something like this every February. For the best of the best, National Signing Day (Feb. 6) is a reward for years of summer camps, college campus visits and a courtship that includes Facebooking, texting and talking to coaches from around the nation.
It’s also a culmination of the intense media spotlight they’ve been under for months — the day when our favorite sports stars of tomorrow make their final college choice public by signing a letter of intent, leaving all other wooers at the doorstep. In Arkansas, many eyes will be on Hunter Henry, senior at Little Rock’s Pulaski Academy. Will this elite tight end — ranked as the nation’s best at that position by some outlets — choose the Razorbacks, to which he made a non-binding oral commitment last summer?
This would make sense, considering his father played center for the Razorbacks (and is now an associate pastor at Fellowship Bible Church), and his grandfather was an Arkansas basketball player. But Henry’s still open to other schools. He insists his recruiting process is far from over. Here’s a look into that process, and the ups and downs it brings:
Q: You’ve been committed to Arkansas since last summer, but are still considering other schools like Alabama. Give me a sense of what you’ve been going through.
A: The recruiting process can be hard. It’s a blessing, but at the same time I don’t think people realize how hard it really is just because it’s so stressful and you’re trying to pick a place that is going to affect the rest of your life. You’re going to so many different schools and they’re all so amazing … you build relationships with so many people — just really good, strong relationships, talking all the time and it’s kind of hard to say “no” to some people.
Q: You’ve spoken a few times to Arkansas’ head coach Bret Bielema and offensive coordinator Jim Chaney. What do you expect your role to be on offense once you start getting major minutes?
A: I really don’t know. I’m not there, so I got to get on campus. Nothing’s given to me. I’m going to have to work for everything I get and I know that. I’m working extremely hard right now, and I’m just going to continue to work hard... wherever it is that I go, I just want to be a great tight end and a great person.
Q: You grew up in Atlanta in a family that bleeds Razorback red. Once you started seriously considering which college to attend, was it difficult to put aside your Hog fandom to make a clear-headed choice about what’s best for you?
A: It was. I would lie to you if I said it wasn’t. It was hard sometimes, but I did really good at clearing my mind. You know, it’s a whole lot easier once you get into the process and you go to other places and you talk to other coaches, when you get out there and see what else is out there. I think that helps a lot and it opened up things just because I want to choose the place where I should be and the right place for me.
Q: So, what are you looking for? Not necessarily on the field, but off the field?
A: I’m looking for a great environment, a great academic place — somewhere I can be proud of academically, also athletically. Just the people there, just the players there I can get along with. Those are the main things for me.
Q: You have said you want to use your celebrity as a platform for Christ. Explain.
A: As a Christian, I want to use the platform toward good and just be able to share Christ’s name with people, and show his forgiveness and love for us ... overall that’s what athletes are doing these days. They’re using their platform for good. I just want to put it on the line for him, and for his namesake and just to always honor him. Because he’s the one who blessed me and there’s no way in the world I would have a chance to be doing what I’m doing these days without him.
Q: You’ve said you look up to former Hog All-American D.J. Williams and NFL quarterback Tim Tebow. How have those guys influenced you along these lines?
A: It just shows you that you can be a major athlete, at the highest level professionally, and still be a really strong Christian … They just are a living testimony for it.