The crystal ball is mighty murky. Seantrel Henderson’s college destination appears to be the best-kept secret since the Atom Bomb.
He did tell MaxPreps that he has taken official visits to Ohio State, Southern California, Notre Dame and Florida. His final official visit will be this coming weekend to Miami. His unofficial visits have included Minnesota and Iowa. (Minnesota offered him a scholarship before he ever played a high school varsity game.)
The 6-foot-8, 340-pound senior offensive left tackle from Cretin-Derham Hall (St. Paul, Minn.) claims that all of the aforementioned schools still are in the running for his extremely valuable services. Since the end of his sophomore year, the multi-talented Henderson has been ranked as the No. 1 player in the country by Tom Lemming, recruiting analyst for CBS College Sports and MaxPreps.
Lemming noted that Henderson is only the second offensive lineman he has ranked No. 1 in 31 years. The other was Bill Fralic of Penn Hills (Pittsburgh, Pa.) in 1980.
"If he works at it, he’s going to be all-pro," Lemming predicted. "He has all the tools to be great."
Out of respect, Henderson will announce his decision Feb. 3 during Lemming’s CBS College Sports television show in New York.
"I never expected it at all," Henderson said of his No. 1 ranking. "There are so many other great players. It’s really cool."
A gifted athlete, Henderson was destined for greatness. Even though he was born a month premature, he still weighed seven pounds, nine-and-a-half ounces and was 22½ inches long. His father, Sean Henderson, is 6-4 and played basketball at Minneapolis North. His mother, Bree Jasper, is 5-6 and had played three sports at Minneapolis Henry. Her father is 6-10.
When Seantrel was around 11 years old, he tackled another player so hard during a park league game that the boy had to be taken to a hospital in an ambulance. Bree said her son "felt really bad" because "he just plays for fun."
Though Bree and her mother, Zola Jasper, raised Seantrel in his early years, Sean gradually has spent more and more time with him. When Seantrel was in eighth grade, he gave his father a big thrill on his 33rd birthday by scoring a 50-yard touchdown on a tackle-eligible play. That brief taste of a touchdown probably is the main reason that Seantrel came to Cretin-Derham Hall with a desire to play tight end as a freshman.
Varsity coach Mike Scanlan said that when he first saw the big teenager, "He was a little rough, but he stuck out like a sore thumb. I think he had aspirations of being a tight end. I still resisted where his future lay. He’s going to be a left offensive tackle for the rest of his life.
"You see so many kids that are just big and that’s where the package stops. That’s not him. He moves so well. He catches the ball well, throws it well and runs well – he’s very athletic."
Scanlan wasn’t kidding when he noted that the big tackle "throws it well," because once during a varsity practice Mark Alt kicked a 40-yard field goal that soared over a neighbor’s fence. Seantrel ran it down and "threw a 50-yard spiral over the fence back to the kicking team," according to Tim Leighton, who has covered his feats the past three years for the St. Paul Pioneer Press. So, did he start as a 6-6, 290-pound freshman?
"Even Joe Mauer (National Player of the Year as a senior) ‘languished’ on the freshman team," Scanlan replied. "We try to keep our freshmen together. He’s started every game (38 total) since he was a sophomore. The closest he ever came to being injured was when he cut his finger helping a relative move."
During his freshman year, the powerful teenager also made an impact one day when a student was being bullied in the lunch room. Scanlan related, "From the back of the room, Seantrel said, 'Hey, sit next to me and nobody will bother you or pick on you ever again.’ He’s very kind and humble and it’s always about the team. He’s really good with young kids. I could see him being a very good elementary school teacher."
Seantrel not only has natural ability (he bench-presses 350 pounds and has run 40 yards in an unreal 4.89 seconds), but he has benefitted greatly from the tutelage of assistant coaches Ray Hitchcock and John Alt, both former NFL linemen. Hitchcock calls his young protégé "real patient with his hands. He doesn’t turn his head shoulders. If there’s a chance he might get beat, he can recover. He’s also very good at zone blocking.
"He hasn’t given up a sack in two years. He gave up one as a sophomore. We ran behind him 75 percent of the time and also pulled him. He never gets tight-end help. Basically, he’s on his own and is not blockable." For the future, Hitchcock points out, "He has to work on finishing his blocks, because he is so used to dominating guys. He also can work on his technique and run blocking. There’s not much – he’s ready to play college football and play right away."
Hitchcock said that Henderson spends time with his son, Brooks, a wide receiver. He recalled one day that Seantrel wanted to play "Marco Polo" in the Hitchcock hot tub and when the game was over, "We had to refill the water … He is a joy to be around and full of life."
During his senior year, Seantrel authored a weekly diary in the St. Paul Pioneer Press. He dressed up like a cowboy for homecoming and finished his football career by leading the Raiders to a 12-1 record and their first Class 5A state championship in 10 years. Postseason awards included being named National Offensive Player of the Year by USA Today and winning the first annual Anthony Munoz Award, symbolic of being the nation’s premier lineman. When the 6-6 Munoz, an NFL Hall of Famer, presented the award, even he was somewhat awed by the youngster’s size.
John Millea, who covered Cretin-Derham Hall for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, points out that he "is bigger than both of the Vikings’ tackles." He recalled a "Seantrel moment" he won’t soon forget. He noted that students "were doing the ‘Lambeau Leap’ and he came running up and leaped right into them." There was no report on how many students had to be transported to a local hospital (only kidding!).
Now Seantrel is doing what he’s always done after football – playing basketball. Though missing five games due to college visits, he is averaging 17.5 points, 8.5 rebounds, 2.5 blocks and 2.5 assists. He was the No. 2 scorer as a junior with a 13.9 average. He’s so talented on the hardwood that schools such as Marquette and Clemson pursued him for basketball until they realized he was sticking to football.
One of his best friends is Ames (Iowa) superstar Harrison Barnes, who played with him during a few AAU tournaments last summer. "When we met, we just clicked," Seantrel recalled. "I try to talk to him a couple times a month. We try to stay away from recruiting."
Seantrel is supremely confident that he could play Division I college basketball, but as he put it, "I just felt like football takes up a whole lot of time and I might overload the plate."
He has started since very early in his freshman year and was the first freshman ever to even make the varsity at Cretin-Derham Hall, which traces its roots to 1908. Coach Jerry Kline says keeping the 6-8 rookie on his varsity "was a must – an easy decision. He has tremendous size, footwork and the ability to adapt. He’s not a great jumper, but his presence just changes the lane. His long wing span intimidates and changes shots.
"What’s a little unnoticed is that he’s real coachable. We’ve had four wonderful years."
The Raiders have lost just twice so far – both times when Seantrel was not available. Kline stressed, "We are a way-different team when he’s in there. All of the games he’s played we’ve won by 12 or 13 points. He’s about a 15-point difference."
Seantrel’s best game so far this season was 25 points, 18 rebounds and five blocks against Minnetonka. In another game he took the ball at the top of the key, dribbled, made a spin move from right to left and did a left-handed dunk. Kline said he "looked like that kid from the Celtics that they call Big Baby (Glen Davis, who is 6-9 and 289 pounds)."
Kline confided, "He loves music (he can play the violin and piano), but I wonder if sports weren’t part of his life what he’d be doing. He loves being with his teammates. He just wants to be one of the guys."
When Seantrel graduates in the spring, he will take his rightful place among former Cretin-Derham Hall greats such as Mauer, Chris Weinke, Steve Walsh, Michael Floyd and Ryan Harris. In early February he will take the ACT test, hoping to raise his score from 17 to 19 to qualify for a college scholarship. Sean Henderson said that his son still could qualify by maintaining a B average in his core classes for the rest of the year, but Seantrel is confident he will get at least 19 on his next try. So, what does Seantrel, who plans to major in either business or communications, want in a college?
"I want to feel comfortable with a great coaching staff where I can build a relationship," he replied.
Sean Henderson added, "The most important relationship is with the offensive line coach, on and off the field." Distance will not be a problem, because both parents affirm that they will move to another city and seek new jobs if their son chooses a distant college. Seantrel said that recent head coaching changes at Southern California and Notre Dame will not affect his decision.
Trying to uncover an extremely well-guarded secret, this writer is going to climb out on a very long limb and give Ohio State a slight nod (50 percent), because it earned his first visit and he reportedly returned home with stars in his eyes. Southern California and Iowa are tied (at 20 percent each), with Notre Dame and Florida next (at 5 percent each). I believe Iowa, which was an unofficial visit, is the biggest sleeper because Kirk Ferentz was an NFL line coach and he continues to turn out top linemen.
If anyone from the FBI or CIA has inside information, please call me immediately!