Since Herm Edwards took over as head coach of the Arizona State football team in December 2017, he has made it a point to play the best players no matter their age. In his first year, Edwards and defensive coordinator Danny Gonzales started two true freshman linebackers.
This year, Edwards and offensive line coach Dave Christensen started two offensive linemen on the road in a hostile environment.
Arizona State was able to cap off the upset win over then No.18 Michigan State, 10-7, and head into PAC-12 play undefeated. Edwards pointed out after the game that 28 freshmen played in that game.
“Twenty-eight freshman played today and I don’t want that to get overlooked,” Edwards said. “I want to make sure we understand that. There is going to be sometimes where errors are going to be made because of a lack of experience. I think as you try and build a program, that’s what I’m here to do. I’m proud of them.”
One of those players is, 17-year-old, LaDarius Henderson. Henderson took over the role of left tackle after senior Cohl Cabral moved back to center.
Henderson said he didn’t know about the opportunity to start taking first team snaps until he came out of Sunday service.
“I was extremely excited, ready, not nervous of course and just had to be ready for it,” Henderson said. “Nothing in my preparation changed after I found out.”
The nerves never hit the 17-year-old, he stayed calm, cool and collected all week in practice and during the game.
“I thought i was going to be nervous the whole week,” Henderson said. “I was like, ‘why am i not nervous’ and running out i was like ok I’ll surely be nervous running out but I wasn’t nervous running out.”
Henderson knows the opportunity to start his first game as a true freshman is a great opportunity but he can’t take credit for it.
“It was really cool to be able to do that, that experience,” Henderson said. “I can’t take credit for any of that, being there starting, being here. Just playing right away, especially in as big of a game as it was because the lord was with me the entire time I was doing that.
“With the whole team, you watch the game, he had his hand all over that and all over me. Our opponent was great but with god, you are the majority and I’m not Golith anymore, I was David in that situation and when Christ was with me I was victorious.”
Henderson and the rest of the starting offensive line had one week to prepare for Michigan State, one of the toughest defenses in the country. Henderson and crew earned the victory, but knew the offensive play can still improve.
“We didn’t meet the standard with that game even though we won, we could have done it a lot better,” Henderson said. “It’s ok, it seems like it’s ok because we won, it would be a different story if we didn’t win. I’m just proud of us, we did good, we met the physicality, those guys were good.”
Coach Christensen said he thought Henderson had a great game considering the circumstances that were around him in his first game.
“I thought they performed really well considering the circumstances. LaDarius got thrown in his first college game. He just turned 17-years-old, he’s never played a snap, he’s got 70,000 people in front of him in the stadium, playing against a great player. I think probably three of their four guys will get drafted this year on the defensive front, I thought he battled his tail off. It was a heck of a task to take on. I thought those kids approached it with great attitudes.”
Before this season started, Christensen had started one true freshman in his 30 plus years of coaching. This past weekend, he had two of them in right guard Dohnovan West and Henderson. A big reason why they were able to get a chance to play is through practice.
“They’ve worked extremely hard since they’ve been here in training camp,” Christensen said. “Every single time we ran a play with the ones, LaDarius was behind taking steps and going through his assignment. They’re mature beyond their years as far as their preparation, their knowledge of the offense, their knowledge of playing football, their football IQ, and because of that they were able to be put into position to give us a chance to win a football game.”
Before becoming the 295-pound left tackle he is at 17, Henderson was a 6’3 ½ 195-pound sophomore who had never played football before. At Waxahachie high school, he was asked to come join the football team by the offensive line coach during class registration. Henderson had no idea what position best fit him, so he took a questionnaire to find out.
“I went online and googled what position fits you best and got tight end,” Henderson said. “We tried that and it lasted four days.”
Henderson found his home as the starting left tackle for the Sun Devils. As a true freshman, he is leaning his support to the three seniors on the line, Cabral, Alex Losoya and Steve Miller.
“Cohl has helped me so much in just knowing what to do and Steve, he also plays tackle and the d-ends, they weren’t like one sided, they played both sides,” Henderson said. “Me and Steve were going against the same guys. Steve was just helping me out with technique the entire week and Alex is just really beneficial. To play next to an experienced left guard like Alex and he’s just been vocal with me the entire game and they were just really encouraging about it.”
Cabral liked that Henderson was able to play well when being thrown into the fire in East Lansing.
“The fact that he got thrown out into the fire against a guy who is going to be in the draft and can go very high next year or two, it’s awesome,” Cabral said. “He played as well as you could ask from a guy who’s 17 and block an edge rusher as elite as that guy (Kenny Willekes). He did a good job and I’m very impressed with me. He was asking questions all week of what to expect. Me and Steve are trying to help him out with as much as he can and that’s all that you can do with a guy who’s as young as he is.”
Henderson’s demeanor or confidence hasn’t changed in the past week and he doesn’t expect it too at all.
“It really didn’t give me a lot of confidence because honestly I’m a pretty confident person, not in a cocky way but I’m just blessed,” Henderson said. “The lord has brought me here, he brought me to it and he’s going to bring me through it.”