SCOOBA — It seemed like a no-brainer for Brad Henderson.
With one season left at East Mississippi Community College, he”d finally get the chance to pilot an offense that averaged 37.7 points per game last season.
No filling in when leads mounted. No subbing for JUCO All-American Randall Mackey. Finally, he”d get a chance to drive the sports car that”s ripped through the state the past two years.
Surprisingly, the Starkville High School graduate was close to leaving the enviable opportunity behind to walk on at Mississippi State.
The Lions, who finished 12-1 and captured the MACJC state title last season, hired Andy Siegal as their offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach to replace Mike Volarvich, who tutored Henderson during his first two years in Scooba.
The coaching change, coupled with the confidence that he could earn a spot on MSU”s roster, kept EMCC in limbo and forced the quarterback to make a calculated decision.
Taking the chance of not earning a scholarship was a risky proposition, but Henderson believedt he could challenge the likes of Tyler Russell and Chris Relf at MSU.
Another year at Scooba, however, was the safest bet for Henderson to accumulate more game film to earn a Football Bowl Subdivision scholarship.
“I thought I was far along enough to come in and help (at MSU),” Henderson said. “I thought that maybe I could test it somewhere. It will be different with a new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, but having a starting job and coming in to lead the team at EMCC is something I”m looking forward to.”
Two years behind Mackey, who was a Parade All-American in high school and will play at Ole Miss this fall, were valuable and frustrating, Henderson said.
Henderson knew he”d have his shot after redshirting his freshman season. He couldn”t argue with the his predecessor”s production, either. Mackey compiled more than 6,000 yards of total offense and 65 touchdowns in two landmark seasons.
“My first year leaving high school after starting for three years was tough,” Henderson said. “The spring of my sophomore year, I kind of accepted the fact I would have to wait because Randall was a great player. I just had to work that much harder to get better. I actually got more reps than I thought I would coming into my first season and I don”t regret sitting behind Randall.”
EMCC head coach Buddy Stephens was concerned he”d enter the season with former Noxubee County quarterback Termarcus Conner as his top option under center. Conner didn”t log a snap last season, so Henderson”s return to Scooba was vital to the team”s chances of defending its state title and challenging for national honors.
“What Brad gives us is a lot of experience,” Stephens said. “He knows our offense inside and out. Brad also brings a level of stability. He has a calm head when he gets out there and he”s a very good coach on the field. That”s what we”re looking for him to provide this year.
“When Brad had an opportunity to get out there and play last year, we didn”t miss a beat. He came in and played very well for us and we didn”t have a problem having Brad in the game in crucial situations.”
Henderson started one game last season, leading EMCC to a 28-6 win over Itawamba in Week 8. He went 27 of 38 for 203 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. For the season, he finished with 694 yards of total offense and nine total touchdowns.
The team”s top three receivers are gone, but Henderson looks forward to working with former Florida State commitment British Footman and Marcus McQuarley. He”s hopeful two years in the offense and the progress he made last season will give Siegal and Stephens confidence to let him fully run the offense.
“Since I”m knowledgeable, I think coach will be less hands on and allow me to audible if I need to,” Henderson said. “I think they”ll open it up for me, but I”ve got to keep working on my decision making and premeditating the play before it happens. Speed and vision are big, but I want to become better at reading defenses.”
With what Henderson showed last season, Stephens is comfortable with the former Yellow Jacket running every aspect of the offense. He doesn”t see any reason why things should change with Mackey gone.
“That”s why we feel so comfortable; Brad knows the offense and he knows what we”re looking for,” Stephens said. “We feel like he”ll be able to do everything Randall was able to do and everything he was able to do last season. He”ll have that freedom to make the checks that are necessary and that are built into the offense.
“Running our offense means being able to walk up to the line of scrimmage and put us in the right play. He can do that.”
The EMCC offense loses its leading passer in Mackey, its top three receivers and its leading rusher in Henderson”s former Starkville teammate Pat Shed, who inked a scholarship with UAB. Stephens admits there”ll be an offensive transition that Henderson must lead the team through, much like Mackey did in each of the last two seasons.
“After our first year, we lost five receivers and after this year we lost a lot,” Stephens said. “That”s one of the things about junior colleges; you always have to recruit hard and can”t have a down year. We start summer school on June 2 and we look forward to the guys throwing and starting to gel and learn how to work with each other.”
With two dominant years in the state JUCO ranks, the Lions won”t catch anyone by surprise this season, Henderson said. Two years ago, no one expected the kind of resurgence the Lions would go on to have. Being a part of leading EMCC from the cellar is pride point for Henderson, who plans to use the experience, excitement and fun from the past two years to lead the Lions offense and young skill players.
“I started a couple of games and played a whole half against Delta. I made a couple of big throws in the playoffs against Jones, too,” Henderson said. “It”s more exciting because I helped play a part in all of the success we”ve had since I”ve been here. Being the starter now, it makes you work harder because you”ve got other people watching you and expecting you to lead them.
“Me having the starting job, though, I can”t stay in the passenger”s seat. A lot of people are coming out gunning for us.”