Handling two-way players is a constant challenge for football coaches throughout the state.
So when Episcopal football coach Travis Bourgeois needed a replacement for graduating 1,000-yard rusher Jared Rogers, Bourgeois knew he had a suitable candidate in Mike Henry.
He just had to convince the senior running back and linebacker it’s OK to take a few plays off.
“Mike’s the type of guy who doesn’t want to come off of the field,” Bourgeois said. “You can see when he’s winded sometimes and really doesn’t want to come off, but sometimes you just have to force him to.”
A two-year starter at middle linebacker, Henry tallied nearly 100 tackles as junior to help EHS earn back-to-back trips to the regional round of the playoffs.
This season the 6-foot-2, 220-pound senior has taken the reins at running back, where his team-best 951 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns has helped the Knights to a 7-1 record and second place in District 7-2A.
“We just felt like he could handle the load,” Bourgeois said. “Every year, we’ve added more to his responsibilities, and he’s responded well.
“We’ve learned over the years that Mike grasps thing so easily that you can just plug him into a position, and he’s going to adapt.”
In addition to running back, Henry has also played slot receiver and tight end this season, serving as a safety valve for senior 1,000-yard passer Vincent Dellocono.
The attention Henry commands from defenses has also provided openings for 6-foot-5 wide receiver and basketball star Brian Bridgewater, the Knights’ leader in touchdown receptions.
“Mike’s got the respect of his teammates, and we put him in a lot of formations all over the field because we know the defense has to keep an eye on him,” Bourgeois said.
Managing the workload for an impact player like Henry has been a priority for Bourgeois this season. He prefers to keep Henry’s offensive touches around 15 per game to avoid injuries and fatigue.
But Bourgeois said the benefits of playing Henry both ways trumps the involved risks.
“It’s definitely helped Mike develop as a football player,” he said. “As a running back, he knows what the defensive guys like to do as far as keys and tendencies. On the defensive side of the ball, he can think like an offensive guys when he’s playing defense.”
The coaching staff moved Henry to outside linebacker to minimize the wear he’d normally experience at middle linebacker. His production has seen a slight decline — his 2011 totals include 41 tackles, two interceptions and nine tackles for loss — but Henry is still responsible for all calls and adjustments.
Most importantly, Henry provides a deterrent for opponents hoping to avoid 2010 District 7-2A Defensive MVP and Class 2-A All-State defensive end Tylor Harris.
“Those two guys really work hand in hand,” Bourgeois said. “A lot of teams like to run away from Tylor, which makes Mike’s job really important.”