The clock is ticking.
In 2.4 seconds you have to receive a snap, turn the laces of the football to get a good grip, remember the play, read the defense, make your checks, get your feet set, and deliver the ball.
Before you complete that progression, a 300-pound lineman might jump on your back, or a 190-pound safety or cornerback might come darting at you, so you will have to escape the pocket and then do all of those things again — all in a little more than a snap of a finger.
Quarterbacks love that challenge. Their success in those quick-decision moments often is the difference between winning and losing for most teams.
Imagine how difficult it would be to complete those tasks if you hadn”t played regularly for an extended period of time, or if you were following someone who made all of those things looks extremely easy.
It”s natural there would be some doubt.
Brad Henderson has faced that clock and those charging linemen and cornerbacks and those questions. His ability to remain calm and to slow that clock down has helped him become a leader the East Mississippi Community College football team can trust.
“He has improved in his quarterback thinking and his skills also have improved and he has matured physically,” EMCC coach Buddy Stephens said. “He is a good looking specimen of an athlete.”
Henderson”s leadership is a primary reason why defending state champion EMCC (5-4) is still playing. The Lions, who took care of business Thursday and received some help, will play at No. 10 Copiah-Lincoln C.C. on Saturday in the opening round of the MACJC playoffs.
No. 12 Mississippi Gulf Coast C.C. will play at No. 4 Northwest Mississippi C.C. on Saturday in the other semifinal. The winners will play Nov. 13 for the state title.
Last week, Henderson helped EMCC reach the postseason with a 357-yard, four-touchdown effort in a 38-14 victory against Holmes C.C. That win coupled with losses by MACJC North Division members Itawamba C.C. and Northeast Mississippi C.C. forged a three way tie in the division and allowed EMCC to advance based on better point differential against the other three common divisional opponents (Coahoma, Mississippi Delta, and Holmes).
EMCC is back in the playoffs despite an 0-3 start that included plenty of adjustments. Stephens said Henderson, a former standout at Starkville High School, hasn”t made any drastic changes this season and that he has remained steady and has benefited from the improved play of everyone around him.
Those results reflect the maturation. Henderson has 20 touchdowns in his last five games and a 502-yard passing effort against Mississippi Delta that earned him NJCAA co-Defensive Player of the Week honors.
For the season, Henderson, a sophomore, is 215 of 349 (61.6 percent) for 2,618 yards and 25 touchdowns against only seven interceptions.
EMCC assistant coach/offensive coordinator Andy Siegal said Henderson”s maturity is directly related to his production.
“As the season has progressed he has really learned the offense and learned his reads, which has helped him a lot,” Siegal said. “I think the guys are starting to make some catches that they might have dropped early on. I think that has helped him. He realizes he doesn”t have to win every game with his arm and that he doesn”t have to be Randall Mackey. He can be Brad Henderson.”
Mackey was a freak of a quarterback out of the Michael Vick mold. In two seasons in Scooba, Mackey made things happen with his feet and with his arm, and last season he guided the Lions to their first state title and a bowl victory and earned All-America honors. His exploits helped him earn a scholarship to play football at the University of Mississippi.
Henderson, who redshirted his first season at EMCC, played sparingly last season and then had to learn to face the expectations that accompanied a program on the rise. He also had to deal with the fact he was following a quarterback like Mackey, who had the ability to deliver eye-popping highlights every play.
Henderson can do that, too, just not in the same way. While Mackey is more of a “gunslinger” like Brett Favre or Michael Vick, Henderson is a pocket passer in the mold of Peyton Manning or Tom Brady.
Henderson admits it took him time to process he needed to play the position how he played it, not like Mackey did.
“At first, I was like, ”OK, I have big shoes to fill,” but coach Siegal told me I am my own person,” Henderson said. “It was kind of hard because I thought I have to do this like him, but as I have grown I have matured a little bit and have become my own person and become more comfortable with my playing style, and that has got me going individually. I just realized two people could have two playing styles and could have the same success.”
Siegal, who is in his first season at the school, said it took time for Henderson to get comfortable as a leader and to handle the pressure of having a clock in his head. He said Henderson”s gradual progress along the way has helped him become a “pretty darned good quarterback.” Siegal should know. In more than 20 years as a coach, Siegal has tutored 13 Division I quarterbacks at the junior college level, including Brent Schaeffer (Tennessee/Ole Miss).
“He has learned you can”t force balls into coverages and there are going to be bad passes and dropped and batted balls and you have to forget them and prepare for the next play,” Siegal said. “It is almost like a pitcher (who throws a home run and has to forget it to face the next batter). They don”t just come out of the womb.”
Siegal said Henderson has grasped those concepts and has become a quarterback who can read defenses, make changes, and pick defenses apart if given enough time. The offensive line did its job in the last part of the regular season, and Henderson credits that effort for helping the Lions return to the playoffs.
Henderson also feels he has come a long way. The clock is still ticking, but now the ticks are a little quieter and he has developed a sense for when he needs to try to make a play or when he has to take a safer alternative, even if that means running with the ball or throwing it away.
“As I gained confidence I gained confidence to lead,” Henderson said. “The offensive line has been doing a great job down the stretch. It all starts with them. If the quarterback has time to do things the success of the team shows it. You just have to slow the clock down and have the ability to think, to be calm, and to be poised in the pocket to make throws and plays to win ballgames.”
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.