Jed Henry has established himself as one of Mercer County’s top middle linebackers, but when Milo McGuire is asked what he admires most about the senior, his answer has nothing to do with tackling, speed, or power.
“What I like best about him is himself,” Nottingham High’s second-year head coach said. “He’s such a great kid. He’s a program kid. He’s always got a smile on his face. He’s gonna do whatever you ask him to do.
“You need leaders like that. The physical attributes will take care of themselves when you have them. But when you’ve got a kid that plays like that and is such a great kid, it’s easy for him to get coached and to understand things.”
McGuire is right about one thing. The physical attributes have certainly taken care of themselves.
After playing sub-varsity in 9th grade, Henry was eased into varsity play as a sophomore, making six tackles and playing on special teams.
And while the Northstars collapsed in a rare off-year last season, Henry exploded. He led the team with 93 tackles (45 solo, 7 for loss) and was tied for second in sacks with six behind Ameer Muse’s seven. Amazingly, his efforts came when another Henry was supposed to be leading the way.
“My brother (then-senior Darlensher) tore his ACL in the first game so I had to really step it up,” Henry said. “He was supposed to lead the defense last year but he got injured and that put all the pressure on me to lead the defense.
“His injury kind of affected me. But then I thought, ‘This is another opportunity for me where I can step up and show what I can do.’”
He did just that, and drew the attention of numerous Football Championship Subdivision schools, mostly from the Patriot League. Whittling it down to three schools, Henry finally chose Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania, after being offered a full ride.
“I was contacted by Georgetown and happy to get my first offer; I was pumped,” Henry said. “Then Holy Cross texted me a week later, said, ‘Hey Jed, we’re really interested in you, send us your stuff.’ I sent them my stuff and after Holy Cross, it was Lafayette.
“The head coach called me and said, ‘Jed, we want you in here, we want you as a Lafayette Leopard, and we really mean this.’ That really hit me. I thought, ‘They really want me there. This could be home to me.’”
His decision was not without some angst.
“It was really tough, honestly,” Henry said. “The coach from Holy Cross, me and him were tight. He’s one of my favorite coaches. It was a hard decision.”
Nottingham assistant coach Keith Zimmerman termed Lafayette “a good fit,” for football and McGuire was happy to see Henry take his 3.4 grade point average to an academically-renowned school.
“I wanted to establish this last year,” McGuire said. “I always tell the kids my job is to get you out of here, your job is to follow the lead. If I tell you go get As and Bs, that’s it. The rest will take care of itself. That’s like my mantra. You’re gonna go to school and hopefully there will be no money to pay. That’s the goal.”
Henry’s career started with Hamilton Pop Warner, where he played defensive end. Once he got to high school, Henry decided to shop for a position.
“I just moved around to see where I liked it best,” he said. “I found linebacker, and I was like, ‘Wow this is home for me. I think I can play this.’”
It didn’t hurt that Darlensher was also a linebacker.
“He impacted me every step of the way,” said Henry, whose NFL favorite was Ray Lewis. “Since this whole corona thing happened, he takes me to the gym, makes me get stronger. He pushes me because he’s going into body building now. He’s pushing me to be the best I can.”
Henry hopes his best effort will help Nottingham return to its former glory in this COVID-19 shortened season. The Northstars got off to a 2-0 start, with the 6-2, 215-pounder making 12 tackles (7 solo), 3 for loss and 2 sacks.
“He’s a big presence,” linebackers coach Kyle James said. “He has some speed, he can hit somebody hard if he really wants to and his long arms really shed off blocks and gets him where he needs to be.
“He’s a big strong kid and he provides an extra little thump on defense. He’s just a good leader right now, trying to show everybody else. I love the kid to death. He’s a joy to coach.”
James felt Henry showed glimpses of how good he could be in last year’s preseason, and even before that.
“We saw it in practice and in the scrimmages,” the former Northstar standout said. “We saw him just flying to the ball, being able to read things and get back there; just using his ability to do what he can do best. We could see it on the freshman level at some point. We were saying ‘This kid can do something.’”
What’s impressive is Henry’s sack total, considering that the coaches don’t turn him loose that often.
“He blitzes some depending on the game,” McGuire said. “When teams are doing certain things you can’t blitz. We’ll blitz some, but no more than the average football team. He gets his fair share (of opportunities) but it’s nothing crazy.”
Henry noted that there is nothing complicated about how he gets to the quarterback.
“I just play football,” he said. “I see a gap open up and if I see my chance I’ll just take my chance. Whenever a gap opens up I just shoot and see where I end up.”
He makes the most of those opportunities, and is also dynamic on running plays or in coverage.
“He’s a real rangy kid,” McGuire said. “He can go from sideline to sideline pretty good. He’s quicker than he is fast, and just has those long arms. He’s like a bullet to the ball. He gets there quick.”
McGuire and Henry were both happy with how he was playing early in the season, but agreed that he could take it up a level and begin to take over games.
“It’s gonna click one of these times,” McGuire said.
“I feel like I can do a lot better,” Henry said. “I just have to get my head more into the game.”
That will definitely be the case when he gets to Lafayette, who recruited him as an edge rusher and linebacker. Henry feels he could end up as an outside linebacker, which would utilize his quickness.
As for the classroom, Henry is looking into one of Lafayette’s top programs.
“When I grew up my dad wanted me to be in engineering,” he said. “Lafayette’s a good engineering school, so maybe I’ll pick engineering if I’m good at that.”
Sounds like a bright future for a kid who does pretty well just being himself.