HAMMOND — Southeastern Louisiana senior defensive tackle Ashton Henderson believed if ever there was to be a defining moment in his career, it would likely be the result of an interception.
“I thought maybe on a screen or something like that,” Henderson said rather matter-of-factly.
Never had the thought crossed , the 6-foot-1, 320-pounder’s mind would return a fumble for a 45-yard touchdown, which he did in last Saturday’s 28-17 victory over Florida Tech — a 15-second clip that’s gone viral with more than 78,000 views on Fox Sport.com’s @TheBuzzer.
“It’s really a blessing,” Henderson said. “It’s an experience I wish all D-linemen could go through.”
Of all the candidates likely to score touchdowns for No. 17 Southeastern in last Saturday’s home opener, 300-pound defensive linemen Solomon Parker and Henderson probably ranked near the bottom of the list.
However, Parker was the first to knock down the stereotypical door for SLU’s defensive front, returning a fumble 7 yards for a 7-0 first-quarter lead.
Nearly five minutes later, Henderson continued what evolved into a trend for the Lions defense, which forced nine turnovers and produced three touchdowns.
“He’s a great personality,” SLU coach Ron Roberts said. “He’s the guy in the (meeting) room that always comes with a smile on his face. I think everybody’s excited for him he got his play, that he got his story.”
Henderson’s leap into almost cult hero status around SLU’s campus was equal parts awareness, timing and desire.
Florida Tech quarterback Sean Ashley, who was in shotgun formation, mishandled a snap that glanced off his left shoulder pad.
Ashley and SLU outside linebacker Tre Bennett immediately gave chase after the loose ball, which was 15 yards behind the line of scrimmage when Henderson began his all-out sprint.
“When the play happened and the quarterback was hit, everyone, including the crowd said, ‘ball, ball, ball’,” Henderson said. “Immediately, we’re taught to snap our head to find the ball and get there. I took off as fast as I could go.”
Ashley unsuccessfully tried to scoop up the ball near midfield, inadvertently tripping up an SLU defender in the process.
That allowed a hustling Henderson to recover and shake off a would-be tackler. He picked up a block from Parker at the 30 and received a convoy from Caleb Young and Bennett into the end zone for a 14-0 advantage.
“All you can see is the yellow end zone, and you’re running as fast as you can, hoping no one can jump on your back,” Henderson said. “My teammates blocked for me, not to let that happen to me. They made it possible.”
Henderson, a native of Tulsa, Oklahoma, said he scored a touchdown for Booker T. Washington High, recovering a fumble in the end zone.
After spending two years at Iowa Western Community College where he was an All-Midwest Conference choice, Henderson played in all of SLU’s 13 games last season with 10 tackles. His final season’s off to a fast start with five tackles, a sack, one tackle for loss and one unforgettable fumble return for a score.
“Before the season he told me if he had a chance to do something like that, we would never hear the end of it,” said SLU linebacker Demarayeh Lane, who had an interception return for a TD in the game. “Well, we haven’t heard the end of it.”