- The Washington Times - Friday, October 26, 2001

This violent force of nature can easily be lost in a room because of its stillness and silence. Maryland linebacker E.J. Henderson doesn’t talk much, but he leaves a trail of destruction on offenses.
“He’s very quiet,” said Terrapins inside linebackers coach Rod Sharpless. “I know when he comes out on that grass field, it’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.”
Henderson has combined an instinct for reading plays with his tremendous athleticism to become one of the best linebackers in college football. Tomorrow he leads undefeated, 10th-ranked Maryland into an ACC showdown at No. 19 Florida State. The 6-foot-2, 238-pound middle backer is one of a dozen finalists for the Butkus Award, given to the nation’s top linebacker. The junior from Aberdeen, Md., is the backbone of Maryland’s punishing defense, which leads the ACC in fewest points allowed per game (15.0).
The Terps’ leading tackler will need to have a major impact for Maryland (7-0, 5-0 ACC) to have a chance against the nine-time defending conference champion Seminoles, who have never lost an ACC game at Doak Campbell Stadium. Florida State (4-2, 3-1 ACC) has won 38 games at home against conference foes since joining the league in 1992.
“There is an inner sense of confidence within our team,” Henderson said. “There is a feeling of ‘if not now, when?’”
“When” is definitely now for Henderson, who had a strong sophomore year before emerging as a dominant player this season. He excels at reading snap counts and stuffing the run with his speed and quickness. Sharpless said Henderson’s “great vision” allows him to anticipate, and the revamped defense has given him the freedom to follow his instincts and create havoc.
“He never looks like he’s happy out there,” Terps coach Ralph Friedgen said. “He’s the heart and soul of our defense.”
Friedgen likes to see Henderson scowl an all too familiar sight for opponents as Maryland won its first seven games for the first time in 23 seasons.
“When you’re playing, you have to have that mean attitude,” said Henderson, a criminology and criminal justice major. “There is nothing to be happy about. You’re at war with somebody.”
Henderson has found a home in new defensive coordinator Gary Blackney’s blitz-heavy philosophy, where he has freedom to roam and play hunches.
The linebacker’s 90 tackles are close to twice as many as fellow linebacker Leon Joe, who is second on the team with 54.
“We’re playing defense again,” Henderson said of the change in scheme. “We’re running around and not having a lot of restrictions.”
The game that launched him onto the national scene was at No. 21 Georgia Tech in a Thursday night game on ESPN. Henderson scored the game’s first points by picking up a fumble and returning it 36 yards for a touchdown. The run was reminiscent of his career at Aberdeen High School, where he rushed for 1,127 yards and 15 touchdowns his senior season in addition to being a defensive standout.
Against the Yellow Jackets, Henderson had 18 tackles, three solo, and was named national Defensive Player of the Week. He also made a key sack that helped keep Georgia Tech scoreless in the first half before the Terps went on to win 20-17 in overtime.
“When the ball moves, he reacts,” Sharpless said. “He trusts his eyes. A lot of guys don’t trust their eyes from a defensive standpoint. He does a great job trusting his eyes, and he reacts to it.”
The only misstep Henderson has taken this season came off the field after the West Virginia game in the season’s fourth week, when he was cited for DWI one night on campus. He was not suspended from the team but was not allowed to start the following week after being charged with the misdemeanor.
“You learn from your mistakes. I learned from it,” Henderson said. “Be responsible. You have to pay for your actions regardless of who you are. If you violate team rules, you have to pay.”
Henderson had a subpar game as Maryland won 41-21 the next week to improve to 5-0, though he did block a field goal as Virginia was rallying from a 10-point third-quarter deficit. Other than that, Henderson’s play has been unaffected by the distraction. He had 18 tackes in the two most recent games, including the powerful performance at Georgia Tech.
His showing this season has made him a Butkus finalist and All-America candidate, and he owes much of it to a rigorous offseason training program.
“I thought I was the hardest worker on the team,” said linebacker Aaron Thompson, who trained alongside Henderson. “There were times in drills, he would beat me. I would be bent over tired, and he would be standing up. I’m like, ‘What the hell does he do at night? What kind of diet is he on?’”
It’s a diet of few words.
“You won’t see him just walking around campus like the other guys,” said Terps defensive end Durrand Roundtree, a close friend of Henderson. “You’ll always find him in his room. I don’t know if he’s doing work or watching TV, but he’s definitely in his room. He just pours it out on game day.”
That certainly has been the case this year, as Henderson and the Terps have made plenty of national noise on their way to Tallahassee, Fla.
“I’m kind of shy,” Henderson said. “If I’m not talking to the public or being shy, on Saturdays, I get to let it out.”
Note Starting cornerback Tony Okanlawon will not make the trip. The senior is still sick after having the flu last week. Sophomore Dennard Wilson will start in his spot.

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