May 18, 2009

Hendrix centered on football

CINCINNATI -- It is unclear how detailed or how deep through the years the Cincinnati-area pee wee football record books extend. Surely, however, an approximately 75-yard touchdown scamper by an offensive lineman withstands the test of time.

Andrew Hendrix's transformation from inglorious offensive lineman to a high-rising, four-star quarterback in the class of 2010 traces its roots to a blowout defeat.

"I started playing in first grade and started off as a center. Because I was pretty big and I guess they didn't really know how athletic I was," explains the unassuming Hendrix, an honor student with a 3.5 GPA at legendary Cincinnati's Moeller High School. "We were losing pretty bad in our championship game that year and they gave me the ball, I think just because they wanted to give everyone the ball. And I ran like 75 yards for a touchdown.

"So they were like, 'I guess this kid is kind of good.' So from then on out, I've been playing quarterback."

John Rodenberg, Hendrix's coach and a fixture in Queen City football the past 15 years, knows Hendrix possesses all the requisite tools; so much so that Rodenberg easily compares his current pupil who boasts 16 offers, including Tennessee, to a former star.

"When you watch Andrew throw he's got a quick release, strong arm," explains Rodenberg, who won a 2006 Class AAA across the river from Cincinnati at Covington Catholic. "I had coached another player (Brian Cupito) at another school who ended up being the all-time leading passer at the University of Minnesota. I saw similar arm strength."

Where the 6-foot-3-inch, 218-pounder plays his collegiate football next year keeps coaches traveling to the stately Cincinnati school in an serene residential area like Trekkies to an iMax showing of "Star Trek." Nearly 20 schools count a visit to see Hendrix, as well as his touted Moeller teammates Marcus Rush and Jeff Tanner among their spring evaluations; Notre Dame and Duke are expressing increased interest in Hendrix - but wish to see him throw first.

Despite the increasing attention, Hendrix maintains an even keel in hopes of making his choice before the Crusaders open the 2009 season.

"That would definitely be the ideal situation," Hendrix says of choosing his school before opening kickoff. "We have a very good class, our seniors are dedicated and are in the weight room every day. Along with a lot of Division I players, we have a lot of kids who work hard and are very good high school players. I think it would be unfair of me to work with my classmates, my teammates for three years and then the last year focus on recruiting when it's also their last year of playing and I still have four years to go. I think it would be really unfair of me to do that.

"Not only do I want to recruit for the school that I go with, because once you get a quarterback to commit, really you can center your whole class around that quarterback, but along with that I'd like to concentrate solely on winning a state championship because we really do have that ability."

Hendrix's interest level in Tennessee is substantial, including an unofficial visit earlier this spring when a slight break in the Vols' spring drills left Hendrix meeting with quarterbacks coach David Reaves, among others.

"The way our schedule came up, I was down there (in Knoxville) for baseball with my team. I attended a film session with coach Reaves and the quarterbacks," says Hendrix, who last season in his first as a varsity starter completed 61 percent of his passes and threw for more than 1,700 yards. "That's about the only thing I did besides touring because they didn't have practice or anything else. I went to football camp at Tennessee last summer. I knew the campus, had stayed in some dorms. I was not familiar with the coaching staff at all."

Yet the work of Tennessee's coaches to get familiar with Hendrix and build a relationship isn't going unnoticed.

"My area recruiter is Coach (Mitch) Browning from Syracuse. He's the area recruiter. Coach Browning and Coach Reaves, that's who I communicate with most of the time," Hendrix says. "I know I can email them whenever I want and they'll get back to me as quick as they can. It seems like I'm always a first priority to them and it's good talking with them."

Hendrix also recalls being impressed by the energy surrounding Tennessee's football program under first-year coach Lane Kiffin.

"Definitely, it was definitely a good atmosphere. It's really like the atmosphere here," he says. "It's not the exact same offense we do here, but I got a good feel for the offense they run which is pro style. It just seemed like someplace I could see … really they operate just like we do here. A fun atmosphere but when it's time for business, it's time for business."

Hendrix just wants another chance to see the Vols with their business-like approach on the practice field.

"I'd like to get back and see either a team workout or something. I'd like to see how the team interacts with each other and see their chemistry and see if it's a place I could see myself being," he explains. "Because I know the coaching staff really rolled out the red carpet for me, and that won me over a little bit with the facilities and everything. I was touring facilities I wouldn't even be a part of because they're building a whole-new multi-million dollar building on the far end of the practice facility. I was touring a weight room and locker room that will be obsolete. I know the stadium I saw is getting some incredible renovations. I'd like to get back down there and see how things are going and how the team interacts, things like that."

These days when Hendrix isn't throwing his 92 mph fastball for Moeller's baseball team, he's elevating the mental aspect of his work at quarterback. Rodenberg sees his players meeting a couple mornings each week at 7 to digest defenses.

"The thing that he's going to have to get better at, with the experience he got on the field, is being able to lead that team and just really pick apart defenses with his mind," says Rodenberg, like UT's Browning a Capital University graduate. "Because he's got the mind to do it. You don't have to worry about his arm strength; he'll throw it through somebody's hands. The big thing with him is can he take us to the next level.

"We've got the potential to make a run at the state championship, and I don't say that lightly because it's going to be difficult with our schedule. Our region right now could have three or four teams ranked nationally - Elder, Colerain, we could slip in there and you can't count out Saint X, which won the national title in 2007. You get an idea that our region, just to get out of it, is going to be a bear, but Andrew can take us to that next level with his mind."

Hendrix embraces the challenge of reading defenses as just one more step in his development after retooling his release during a Football University camp a year ago with former NFL veteran Steve DeBerg.
"Really, eighth-grade year was the first time I started to throw and started to get an idea of how to read a defense, things like that," Hendrix says. "Back then (coach Tom Fitts) said I had a lot of potential. Some better potential than some guys who previously came through and were college quarterbacks as well. Before that, really quarterback was just pick your receiver and throw to them. I never knew how much went into it. When I found out it was a pretty brainy game, I instantly took a liking to that aspect. Even though it's baseball season, right now we have films on Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7 o'clock in the morning until about 7:45, right before school starts. Those are really helping me a lot with my development, of recognizing defenses and just making my decisions a lot quicker."

Hendrix knows a greater understanding of the game and the ability to anticipate defensive movements only augments his considerable physical tools.

"I think the thing last year that really got me in trouble sometimes is that I would rely on my arm to cheat. Instead of reading defenses, I'd just try to fit things in," he says. "At the next level, you're not going to be able to do that. Right now you're not going to be able to do that. It got me into trouble a couple of times. Right now I'm just watching the film and trying to get the defenses to where I don't even have to think. I just see it and react, and I think that will go a long way.

"I definitely think, I mean, from the mental part of it, it really makes it easy for you to use your tools if you put yourself in the right situation. It really lets your ceiling go pretty high; because if you have a lot of physical tools but you don't know how to use them and apply them to the game, you can't just be a freak athlete and be a good quarterback. You've got to have the mental part of it or else your tools are irrelevant. They don't matter. So definitely it helps you use your physical tools if you know how to play the game."

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