DENHAM SPRINGS — The allure of playing football for an elite out-of-state prep school has attracted several Louisiana high school players to IMG Academy.
Calvary Baptist quarterback Shea Patterson and Neville wide receiver Chris Fuller both announced their plans to transfer to the Bradenton, Florida, boarding school in June.
Denham Springs High’s Justin Henderson represents the flip side of the equation. After playing at IMG as a sophomore last season, Henderson returned home to the Yellow Jackets. And for the 6-foot-61/2, 325-pound Henderson, home is the key.
“Going to IMG was one of the best experiences in my life,” Henderson said. “I met some great people and had a lot of fun over there.
“Over there, in Florida it’s different. It was hard for me to be away from home. I missed the regular high school experience and the supportive Denham Springs community. Being away made me realize how special Denham is.”
Denham Springs coach Dru Nettles said he is glad to have Henderson back. Henderson will start at right tackle along side four seniors. He could even see some action on the defensive line.
Nettles smiled during a 6:30 a.m. Tuesday practice while watching Henderson and the other linemen practice a mixture of fundamentals and blocking schemes.
“He can take up a lot of space on defense,” Nettles said. “The big difference I see in Justin is maturity. He’s learned how to take care of his body. I know a lot of people are sold on IMG and places like that. The one thing we can offer is that high school experience. ... The pep rallies and everybody being excited about game days. Family is a big part of his life, and that played a role too.”
Henderson is without a doubt a key addition for a DSHS squad that finished 7-5 last season and advanced to the second round of the Class 5A playoffs. The offense for the Yellow Jackets was already potent. Senior quarterback Torez Kinchen passed for 1,120 yards and 12 touchdowns last season. Running back Tyre Golmond, who rushed for 1,362 yards and 16 TDs, was Louisiana’s top freshman rusher.
“I think we’re going to be even better than last year,” said Henderson, who started the final six games of his freshman season for DSHS left tackle. “It’s going to be exciting to see Tyre running behind me and right guard Kyle Dear. I like playing right tackle. I’ve really worked on my balance and footwork.”
Despite his size, Henderson is still somewhat of a sleeper among 2017 recruits. He lost approximately 40 pounds during his time at IMG and also attended three summer camps. He’s following in the footsteps of older brothers Joe and Jon, who also played for the Yellow Jackets. Two years ago, Justin and Jon Henderson were part of the same DSHS offensive line.
“He’s a very talented kid,” Nettles said. “He’s got a bright future in front of him. We’ve got eight starters back on offense, and we think our offensive line will be a strength.”
Henderson said he plans to take the lessons learned at IMG and put them to good use this fall, regardless if he is pass blocking or run blocking..
“It’s interesting learning the different ways coaches teach,” he said. “I really like the contact in football. Being able to physically put somebody where you want them as an offensive lineman is a good feeling.
“I’m not going to let anybody get past me to hurt my brother,” he said. “I’ll do what it takes to stop him.”
Henderson said he doesn’t regret his year at IMG, which is fielding just its third football team in 2015. He was part of a nationally televised game.
“The practices were intense, and I learned to handle things that were thrown at me,” he said. “I know the game so much better now. I learned to play at a faster pace.”