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January 8, 2010MORE: Army AA Bowl announcement watch | Army Bowl starters | Army All-American Bowl coverage
SAN ANTONIO - In an Alamodome hallway outside the West locker room Wednesday afternoon, Seantrel Henderson was cornered by reporters, one holding a video camera shining a bright, white light in his eyes.
The questions began in earnest:
What do you think of new Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly?
Has Florida's Urban Meyer called you?
Where are you with Ohio State?
What are your thoughts on USC?
Have you decided on a fifth official visit?
This is life for Henderson, the 6-foot-8, 301-pound offensive tackle from Saint Paul (Minn.) Cretin-Derham Hall who is rated as the No. 1 player by Rivals.com - the first offensive lineman ever to be given an honor usually reserved for more glamorous positions.
Henderson answered the questions patiently and thoughtfully. No one-word answers, no dodges, even though he'd talked about these topics all week. He even shook a writer's hand and thanked him for coming over.
All the other West players - except for five-star defensive end Ronald Powell - already had hit the showers. Henderson was still surrounded in the hallway. Offensive linemen are usually anonymous, the guys up front who rarely get much attention or accolades. Henderson is different in so many ways.
Because of his size, because of his dominance, everyone here at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl is talking about him. Everyone wants to know what's next.
"His athleticism for his size really stands out," said former NFL lineman and Shawnee Mission (Kan.) Bishop Miege coach Tim Grunhard, who's coaching the West offensive line. "You always have some big guys, but a lot of times their feet are behind or their ability to move laterally or their balance.
"He has all three of those things going for him. He needs to add a little more power at the punch, at the line of scrimmage, but that will come with time. He's been going against kids where he didn't need that. Now he needs that and he can get to that because he has the size and strength and balance."
Henderson has backed up his lofty ranking this week as he continues to navigate the recruiting process. He already has visited Ohio State, Notre Dame, USC and Florida. Oklahoma or Miami should get the fifth trip.
The recruiting questions have been incessant. Everyone wants the slightest sliver of news that could hint at where he's headed, but it seems as if Henderson isn't even sure.
He has kept his composure all week, having gotten tips on how to handle the situation from two different sources. One is former Cretin-Derham Hall standout Michael Floyd, a 2008 recruit now at Notre Dame. The other is Ames (Iowa) Ames Senior's Harrison Barnes, who lives in a different state and plays a different sport (basketball), but as the second-best basketball player in the 2010 class by Rivals.com, may be one of the few athletes who knows what Henderson is going through.
Henderson said he and Barnes chat frequently.
"I talk to him from time to time, I try to talk to him a couple times a week," Henderson said. "He just committed to North Carolina but for him it was the same thing. He was the No. 1 basketball player in the nation and everybody wanted him, same thing for me. He went through the same stuff that I went through."
Henderson said he's always eager to learn how to handle things. That includes on the field, too. He may be the top-ranked player, but he is relishing his chance to go up against the best.
Even with all his talent, Henderson said he's here to learn. In Minnesota, he doesn't play anywhere near this competition. He's probably never blocked anyone as talented as Powell or Owamagbe Odighizuwa, another five-star defensive lineman. He's never been tested this way. That's one reason why Henderson said he's been anticipating Army week for a long time - to really see if he's the nation's best player.
"I always think about that because I know Minnesota isn't a big football state like Texas or Florida or California so I always have that in the back of my head," Henderson said. "I know I have to keep working hard because there are guys out here like Ronald Powell and Owa and all of them that I have to go against when I get to college."
What makes Henderson so special on top of his off-field demeanor - calm and collected - is his tenacity on the field. He's humongous, easily towering over defensive linemen, but moves well and has proven to be one of the most athletic linemen in the game, too.
He's not just a massive lineman who has bad feet. Henderson is keeping up with Powell and Odighizuwa, but he did get knocked down by Portland (Ore.) David Douglas defensive end during 1-on-1s early in the week. Getting the best of Henderson was even a surprise to Odighizuwa because it doesn't happen often.
"He's a very good player, I don't think he was expecting that from me because I look lighter than I really am but after that he did well," Odighizuwa said. "It's difficult in team stuff going against him but he's making me better and I'm making him better.
"Blocking-wise, he's very athletic, he's strong. You look at him and he's not the typical lineman I see. He's tall, pretty muscular, big, it's going to be hard. I've never seen a lineman in the state of Oregon who's 6-8 and big like that."
Grunhard said the knockdown is all part of the growth process.
"He's going to struggle. He's going to get beat in this game a couple times,'' he said. "That's just the nature of the beast, but he needs to be able to come back from that. It will be a great lesson for him and he'll realize it's not as easy as it's been and that's a great lesson and he'll learn from it."
In a few weeks, the recruiting hype will be finished. Henderson will make one college team incredibly happy and others disappointed they didn't get the best offensive tackle to come through the prep ranks in some time.
Henderson called the recruiting process a rollercoaster - one that doesn't figure to stop anytime soon since Henderson has said he plans to wait until National Signing Day in February to make his decision.
Interviews went on so long Wednesday that an assistant working for Sportslink, the group that puts on the game, had to end the session, saying Henderson had to attend team meetings. But as he was being pulled away from the lights, cameras, tape recorders and notepads, a reporter got in one more question:
Are you ready for signing day to come so all of this will be over?
Henderson took a deep breath and then smiled.
"Yes," he said. "I am."