Brad Henson Jr., From Young Singer to Star Lineman
It was more than 10 years ago that Brad Henson Jr. of Surf City was a young singing sensation. The little boy with the big voice thrilled audiences at special events with his spirited rendition of Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A.”
Well, Henson sure isn’t very little anymore. He’s 6-foot-5, 295 pounds, and last week, the standout offensive lineman from Monsignor Donovan High School in Toms River signed a letter of intent to play for the North Carolina Tar Heels in the Atlantic Coast Conference. The team finished 8-4, good enough for first place in the ACC’s coastal division.
Henson will be arriving at the Chapel Hill campus with very impressive credentials. He made the Star Ledger’s All-State First team, which includes both public and parochial schools. No one from Monsignor Donovan had made that elite list in more than 30 years.
He was ranked the 11th top prospect in the state and the number 26 guard in the country by Rivals.com. Other websites that track Division 1 prospects had him ranked anywhere from the 13th to the 25th top guard in the nation.
He also has good blood lines. His father, Bradley Sr., who is a workmen’s compensation court judge, was a starting offensive lineman for East Carolina University.
“I’ve been coaching high school football for 32 years, and he’s one of the best players I’ve ever had,” said Dan Duddy, in his seventh year as head coach for the Griffins. “He has been starting since his freshman year, and he can play all the offensive line positions. When I first saw him, I could sense he was a very gifted player.”
Duddy said Henson has the physical tools to suceed in Division 1.
“Going from high school to college is a very big jump, as he will be competing and playing against other former great high school players,” the coach said. “With good nutrition and training, he could add 20 to 25 pounds to his frame, and that would be a good size to possibly make him a pro prospect. I hope he enjoys his time in college.”
Duddy said that besides being physically gifted, Henson has a “very good attitude and (is) well-balanced.”
“He’s had great family support,” said the coach. “His father knows what it is like to play at the Division 1 level. He’s a quick learner, and having the right frame of mind is just as important as being physically gifted. ”
Henson said he would probably play guard or center. There will be an opening at guard when Jonathan Cooper graduates this spring. Cooper is expected to be a first-round NFL draft pick.
The new signee isn’t thinking too far ahead about a pro career.
“I don’t know if I’ll start right away, but at least the coaches told me there I’d have a chance to compete,” he said. “I’m going to be very busy working out to get ready. When I visited North Carolina, I developed a good rapport quickly with the coaches and the players, so I made that school my choice.”
His father said Brad Jr. is up to the challenge.
“I think he’s going to do real well,” he said. “To play on the varsity level in high school for all four years is impressive.”
While Brad Jr. is following in his father’s footsteps as a college player, he doesn’t think he’ll study law.
“I’m looking to major in business,” he said.
While North Carolina has had a long-held reputation as an elite basketball school, its football program has been making strides. Twenty-four former Tar Heels were on NFL rosters this year, most notably Chicago Bears defensive end Julius Peppers and Giants wide receiver Hakeem Nicks.
The best Tar Heel football player of all time to play in the NFL? You sure could make a case for the Giants hall-of-fame linebacker Lawrence Taylor, who was the first player from Chapel Hill to be enshrined in Canton, Ohio.
— Eric Englund