Erin Henderson wakes up everyday thankful. He’s thankful because at 28 years old he is healthy and he has the opportunity to play the game that he loves. A year ago, that wasn’t the case for Erin and he was unsure of what life would hand him.
Erin has overcome obstacles his entire career and 2014 would prove to be one of the toughest years for him.
Erin had two brushes with the law leading into the 2014 offseason and the Vikings released him in February of that year. In May of 2014 he plead guilty to one charge and received 2 years of probation. With his legal trouble behind him it seemed simple, all Erin had to do was wait for his phone to ring. The problem was that NFL teams weren’t calling, which led to Erin missing the entire 2014 NFL season. Erin says that trials in his past helped him get through those tough times.
“When I entered the NFL I came in undrafted. It was kind of a gift and a curse,” said Erin. “They weren’t really expecting much from me but at the same time it wasn’t costing them anything. It was a time for me to go out to show and prove, kind of how my situation is now after missing a year. That process prepared me for a lot of things in life, not just football.”
This past offseason the NFL held a veteran combine which would was set up to give NFL GMs and scouts a second chance at latching onto a NFL team. Once again Erin was overlooked. “I wasn’t invited to the combine. They said that I was too well-known as a commodity and that people knew my body of work already. There was some people who got signed and were able to get on some NFL rosters, so I think it’s a good thing.”
Just another hurdle for Erin to overcome. He had missed a year of action but was too known to attend the combine, even thought the combine had high-profile names like Tim Tebow. Erin just stayed the course and made it a point to stay ready. Somewhere deep inside he always felt that another chance was around the corner. That positivity is why he feels as though he will be better this time around.
“No questions asked [I will be better], I was able to rest and heal my body. After 3 years as a starter you put some wear and tear on your body but I was able to do some things this past year, including hot yoga, to get my body back to where I want to be.”
Even without a team Erin showed the drive and determination that once turned him from an undrafted free agent linebacker into a starter.
“I had to work during this time off because I didn’t know when that phone call would come,” said Erin. “I had to stay in shape and stay ready. I think it was beneficial to me in a way because it allowed me to get healthy and not have to worry about anything coming into the season.”
That hard work paid off when the NY Jets and new head coach Todd Bowles signed Erin in April of 2015.
He thinks he can show coach Bowles that he is an even better player than the one that played in Minnesota.
“I think I can get back to that level [In Minnesota] and get better. I feel myself during that already during OTA’s and being on the field, going through the defense. It was also wake up call for me and after 6 years of doing something you can take it for granted and feel like it’s always going to be there. You may not do the things that you did before or do things the same way you did before but my competitive drive and my love for the game has been revived. I’ll go out there and give it my all.”
We often hear about the “love for the game” or a players “fire.” It’s a term that is hard for them to describe but they all know when it goes out. Erin is one of the few that has found a way to reignite his fire and missing prime years of his career is something he attributes to the resurgence.
“You realize how much you love the game and how much you miss the game [being away for a year] and how much it’s not always going to be there for you. A lot of people don’t have that opportunity, sometimes once they realize how much they enjoy being out there it’s no longer an option for them to be able to play. I made a promise to myself that I will do everything in my power to be the best football player that I can be in this time that I have out here.”
Erin had a few good visits with the Arizona Cardinals,Coach Bowles’ former team, this offseason but felt as though the Jets were a better fit for him. He recognizes that the Jets will have a crowded linebacker corps but he also knows that he wants to be part of a special defensive unit.
“The potential is definitely there but potential only takes you so far, we still have to go out there on Sundays and perform. We have to continue to work to get to that point and we are all aware of that. Up to now we’ve been doing a really good job of blocking out the outside noise and just trying to go into work every day with our nose to the ground so that we can be the best team that we can be.”
Erin feels that the expectations are high for this team but he isn’t shying away from those expectations. His personal goal is to just get better as a player and a person. That level of maturity comes from going through countless ups and downs as an athlete and a person.
Erin is hoping to make his second chance in the NFL the last chance he will need. Training camp opens up in one month and you can count on Erin Henderson taking the field with a chip on his shoulder. What looked like the end of his NFL story may very well only be the beginning.