Henderson’s biggest drive happened off field

A football player’s career can be defined by one drive, a saving moment when everything is on the verge of being lost.

For David Henderson, his drive came far from the field at Lincoln High School — and long before the spectacular touchdown runs and weekly headlines would make him one of the most highly acclaimed players in recent Academic Athletic Association history. The running back was in the passenger seat of sister Chamblis Scott’s car, at the end of a freshman year nearly lost due to poor grades and a disinterested attitude.

It was time for some tough love.

“She was driving through our neighborhood in Hunters Point and pointing out people who were struggling because they quit school and turned to the streets,” Henderson recalled. “And then we ended up at Twin Peaks looking down at the whole city. And she asked me ‘What would you do if you had the whole world in your hands?’”

Henderson has taken that message and run with it, becoming both a star and a beloved teammate on a Mustangs team looking to win its third consecutive Turkey Bowl. Prior to a recent practice, he joked around with players on Lincoln’s varsity and frosh-soph teams before leading drills wearing not his customary No. 24 jersey but No. 8, a tribute to graduated leader Michael Clayton.

“It’s been really a complete 180,” said receiver Mike Paolucci, who became fast friends with Henderson as a freshman. “Early on, he was so cocky and had to go that extra mile to show off. Now when he scores, he just hands the ball to the ref. It’s an honor to block for him.”

His talent has always been undeniable. Lincoln coach Phil Ferrigno said the first time he saw Henderson on the field, he caught a punt with one hand, threw back a 50-yard spiral and received the next kick with his other hand. He took his first varsity carry 45 yards for a touchdown against Marshall as a sophomore and finished with 2,431 yards and 26 touchdowns as a junior last year. A highlight was the league opener against Balboa, when Henderson rushed for 376 yards and five touchdowns. When asked for an interview after the game, he called the entire team over to field questions with him.

“I love him like a son and he’s everything you’d ever want in a kid,” Ferrigno said. “It’s a lot easier to give up on guys than it is to stick with them. And it’s paying off for both of us right now.”

Ferrigno helps keep Henderson and the rest of the Mustangs on track in the classroom by constantly checking in to make sure they’re on top of their work. And now, the 5-foot-11, 190-pound back who can run the 40-yard dash in 4.4 seconds has his dream of attending Division I schools such as Cal or Grambling State in his sights.

“I know I can count on my teammates to keep me focused and not let me get a big head,” Henderson said. “And I’m just trying to take it little by little and help this team win one more.”

melliser@examiner.com

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