- The Washington Times - Friday, December 13, 2002

E.J. Henderson doesn't get excited about donning a tuxedo and traveling the awards circuit. Maryland's All-American linebacker views many of the honors as popularity contests rather than accurate measures of achievement.

However, he keeps earning them. Last night, Henderson won the Chuck Bednarik Trophy, given by the Maxwell Club of Philadelphia, as the nation's best defensive player.

Henderson won the trophy over ends Terrell Suggs of Arizona State and Tommie Harris of Oklahoma.

"It's good to be recognized as one of the top defensive players in the country. I was surprised. I thought Terrell Suggs was going to get it," Henderson said. "I was nervous before they made the announcement. But I'm happy now."

Though winning the Bednarik award was fulfilling, the Dick Butkus Award is the recognition that Henderson covets most. The generally stoic Henderson might feel his blood pressure rise before the winner is announced tonight in Orlando, Fla.

"I want to win the Butkus," Henderson said this week. "I think that is a real prestigious award [it goes to] the best linebacker in the country for that year. My name will be etched in stone forever if I get that. People will look back in 20 years and see 2002 and see my name."

The Butkus is the only ceremony to which Henderson asked coach Ralph Friedgen to accompany him. Friedgen did not attend the Bronko Nagurski (Touchdown Club of Charlotte's best defensive player) or Vince Lombardi (best defensive lineman) ceremonies.

Henderson could be the first Maryland player to win the Butkus, which was created in 1985 in honor of the Chicago Bears' legendary player. He was the Terrapins' first finalist last season, when Oklahoma's Rocky Calmus took home the hardware.

Notre Dame's Courtney Watson and Oklahoma's Teddy Lehman are the other finalists this season, but Henderson could have an edge in name recognition because he is the only returning finalist.

"I'm not going to say I'm better than last season," the 6-foot-2, 250-pounder said. "I would say more mature. I know a lot of different schemes and what offenses are going to do. As far as my playing, I'm not better. My stats aren't as good. But I'm more mature mentally."

Henderson has more tackles, tackles for loss and sacks than the two other finalists. Watson has four interceptions, while Henderson and Lehman each has two. The award is voted by 28 members of the media.

Henderson had 15.5 tackles for losses this season compared with 28 as a junior. However, he had 163 tackles (139 solo) and 6.5 sacks, both up from last season. He has steadily improved after shaking off back surgery in April. He matched a season-high 19 tackles in the final regular-season game against Wake Forest and has improved his pass coverage.

The two-time ACC Defensive Player of the Year has been on every major All-American team. Last season Henderson was the Terps' first Associated Press All-America pick since Randy White in 1974. White also was the last Maryland player to earn a major national award, the Outland Trophy as the top defensive lineman in '74.

It has been a hectic week for Henderson, who is missing a week of school and practice for the New Year's Eve Peach Bowl against Tennessee. He was in Charlotte, N.C., on Monday when Suggs won the Nagurski. Suggs also won the Lombardi on Wednesday in Houston.

Notes The Terps received a verbal commitment from recruit Keon Lattimore, the brother of Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis. The 6-foot-1, 205-pound running back ran for 702 yards and nine touchdowns and had seven touchdown catches this season for Mount St. Joseph's High School outside Baltimore. He is expected to be a receiver in college.

Friedgen attended a Peach Bowl media function in Atlanta. He was at the ESPN awards show in Orlando last night and will stay there for the Butkus announcement. The coach will be back on campus early tomorrow for a big recruiting weekend with 20 prospects.

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