Change is the only constant in Southern linebacker Martin Henry’s life.
Stemming back to his days of high school ball in his hometown of Philadelphia, it’s easier for Henry to name positions he hasn’t played. From quarterback to long snapper, he’s done everything a coach has ever asked him.
That’s why this season, most likely his last in organized football, is so strange. For the first time in his career, Henry will line up at the same position for the second consecutive season as the Jaguars’ starting inside “buck” linebacker.
“I was playing outside (linebacker) when I first came here. … Now I’m playing the inside, and I had to adapt to that because it was part of me buying into the program,” Henry said.
“Now, I’ve bought into the program, and I’m playing the same position, for the first time in my life, back-to-back, and I feel real good; I feel real confident and everything is just second nature.”
Having bounced around the country — including a brief stop at Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh and then two years at Pierce College in Los Angeles before coming to Baton Rouge last year — Henry knows how to adapt to new situations.
It was a skill he needed last season when the Southern coaches initially played him at outside linebacker, as opposed to nickleback position, which he played in junior college.
At outside linebacker, Henry recorded only 18 tackles through the first six games in a backup role.
That quickly changed, though, as Henry was moved inside and into a starting position due to a shift in defensive scheme and an injury to Javon Allen. In the final seven games, he totaled 29 tackles.
“It took him a while to learn the game,” Southern linebackers coach Lorick Atkinson said. “Even when you play at a junior college, when you get to a four-year school, it’s a little different. He had to learn about the culture.”
But this season is a breath of fresh air as Henry can focus solely on becoming a better inside linebacker instead of simply learning the position.
Atkinson said it took Henry some time to learn his role as the “quarterback of the defense,” but that learning to take control of the system and earning the trust of the coaches as a play caller has been a main focus heading into this season.
“He’s one of those veterans coming back that really understands,” Southern coach Dawson Odums said. “You can hear the communication. They’re asking the right questions. Even though he’s a (junior college player) in his second year in the program, you can see the leadership and the steps he has taken since he’s been here.”
In the locker room, Henry has taken to Southern as quickly as he does new positions.
His teammates and coaches know him as the team jokester and someone always ready for good-natured trash talking.
During Thursday’s practice, before trainers finished setting up for the day, Henry got into a brief scuffle with kicker Greg Pittman during special teams drills.
His fellow linebackers gave him grief for it, but Henry said he enjoys making the first big contact of the day as a way to “wake up” the rest of his teammates.
It’s small things like trash talking that show he’s grown comfortable with the new family around him, something he thought impossible before coming to Baton Rouge after growing up in a less-welcoming Philadelphia.
“My expectations of (Southern) accepting me was that it was going to be a little rougher,” Henry said.
“I thought I would have to get into a few fights or have to prove myself on the field a whole lot for them to accept me.
“But they accepted me into the brotherhood, and we’ve been rolling ever since.”