From Walk-on to All-American

An interview with starting center, Kheon Hendricks

72 Hen, GoHens.net special correspondent
August 28, 2008

Eighteen players signed letters of intent and were awarded scholarships in February of 2004. Out of those eighteen players only Fred Andrew, Aaron Love and Kervin Michaud will line up as members of the 2008 Blue Hens. Then there is Kheon Hendricks. Recruited out of Woodlawn high school in Baltimore by then Delaware coach Rob Neviaser, he was given the opportunity to walk-on and possibly earn a scholarship. Needless to say, he made the most of it. The one time walk-on has already been named a pre-season All American and most likely will be named on several post season All American teams.

Today's interview gives a little insight into what makes Kheon the player he is.

GH: Kheon, going back to your high school days, could you tell us what schools were looking at you and how you decided on Delaware?

Hendricks: My older brother had already attended Delaware, so I always had Delaware on my mind. The question was could I get a scholarship to play football there? The Delaware coaches came to my high school and met with a number of players but unfortunately they didn't have a scholarship available for me but did give me a chance to walk on. I did have a scholarship offer from Bowie and Lehigh was talking to me about an offer. I was also a pretty good student and had some scholarship money available from the University of Delaware and the University of Maryland. I went to Maryland to check out their programs and I liked it a lot. But since my brother had attended Delaware and had a chance to play football there I decided on Delaware. I didn't know if I would have played football at Maryland.

GH: It's kind of ironic how things worked out. You have had a great career at Delaware and now you are getting ready to play a big game against Maryland. What was your weight coming out of high school and what positions did you play?

Hendricks: I was 275 pounds. I played guard most of the time and only played a couple of games at center when our starter was banged up.

GH: Did you play any other sports in high school?

Hendricks: Yes. I threw shot put and discus. I went to the States in those events. I was fourth in the state in shot put. I also played lacrosse my freshman and sophomore years.

GH: So you were a pretty big guy coming out of high school. You have a little different body type than most of the other offensive lineman. I hope you can help me to understand Delaware's thinking about weights for their offensive lineman. First, I have really grown to have great respect for Coach Wrobo. But I have always questioned why he likes his offensive lineman to lose weight rather than put weight on. Over the years we have recruited some pretty heavy lineman and before you know it they are asked to drop 20 pounds. We seem to have a lot of lineman that are 285 that were over 300 at one time. I have always wondered if that loss of body mass doesn't relate to lineman that wear down physically by the end of the season?

"Coach Wrobo feels that he wants offensive lineman that are quick and can play all four quarters at a full speed pace."

Hendricks: Coach Wrobo feels that he wants offensive lineman that are quick and can play all four quarters at a full speed pace. So his thing is that he wants you to get the fat off but not the muscle. That's why we run so many outside run plays so that we can use our quickness against teams. And since we are a no-huddle offense, we can hurry up and get to the line and outlast teams for four quarters.

GH: When I look at the Maryland offensive linemen it appears that they take a totally different approach. Their offensive lineman are all over 300 pounds.

Hendricks: Yeah. My best friend (Scott Burley) is actually their starting left tackle. We played at Woodlawn together and he's also a captain. He's a big guy. I guess they just have a different thinking with their offense.

GH: Changing gears a little, you have been playing all preseason against our defense. How would you compare this year's defense against last year's defense?

"this year's defense is far and away better than last year's. They have another year under their belt as far as experience. They're much more physical."

Hendricks: Not to bang on our defense from last year, but I would say that this year's defense is far and away better than last year's. They have another year under their belt as far as experience. They're much more physical. None of them have any MA's (missed assignments) and they're all crisp in their assignments. It's really tough going against this year's defense.

GH: I know that you have been banging heads with these guys all pre-season is there anyone that particularly stands out?

Hendricks: Demitrius Hester has improved a lot! I feel that he has made the most improvement along the defensive line. I mean, I have gone against some pretty good nose guards and he is definitely at the top of the list of any that I have ever played against.

GH: Wow! I know that Coach Keeler has expressed something similar but I really appreciate the way that you put that.

Hendricks: He deserves it.

GH: How about the kid from Syracuse (Brandon Gilbeaux) that transferred in? What kind of player is he?

Hendricks: He's also a very good player. He uses his hands well. He's strong. He and Demitrius definitely pose a challenge to any offensive line.

GH: Every year college teams lose some key players to graduation. We lost some key performers from last year. That 2007 offensive line had played together and that chemistry is hard to replace. How is this year's line coming together? Is there starting to be some cohesion with this year's group?

Hendricks: We have made some great strides this pre-season. It was tough due to the loss of experience from last year. It has taken a little longer than we expected but we are really starting to gel as a unit. The older guys had to step up. Me, Corey and Herrman had to step up and bring up the slack when times were hard - when the young guys were going through the learning process. We had to bring some leadership to the table, but things are going well now.

GH: I had asked you about who had improved on the defensive line. Now I want to ask you who has made the most improvement on the offensive line?

Hendricks: Corey Nicholson at tackle has been doing a great job and I think Herrman has definitely been doing a great job. I know that last year Herrman didn't get a chance to play as much and I'm sure he was disappointed about that but he definitely has stepped up his game and he is doing a great job. This year he is most definitely going to be a big hitter on our offensive line.

GH: This year we have a couple of younger offensive lineman and a quarterback that is inexperienced as well. With that scenario, are we going to see additional blocking in the backfield or perhaps more two TE sets? Or do you see it being pretty much that same as last year?

"We have been doing some thing to get the quarterback a better line of sight so that he can get in a good passing rhythm a little bit earlier."

Hendricks: I haven't noticed anything very different. I think it is pretty much business as usual. We have been doing some thing to get the quarterback a better line of sight so that he can get in a good passing rhythm a little bit earlier. Other than that it has been pretty much the same as last year.

GH: Last year when I interviewed Jon Herrman he explained how the signals are sent in. He told me that the signals are sent in to the quarterback and in turn he relays the signals and the protection package to the lineman. Still, I see you doing a lot of pointing too before you hike the ball. What is it? Are you changing things?

Hendricks: It goes like this: The signal comes in to the quarterback and he relays it to the O-Line but he just gives the direction. Then I tell the O-Line which guy I want them to block. If the quarterback doesn't say anything, it's OK but if he sees a guy that's a threat he would say, "Kheon, such-and-such", and call out his number. If that happens I would change the direction of the OL. A lot of time that's what the pointing is about. The quarterback gives the play and the direction and then I sort out the double teams and who is blocking who. So when the QB tells us that we're running to the right I say to Herrman that you and I are double teaming this guy to this guy. Then once I point out my guy, the tackles can then relay off of that and see who they are blocking.

GH: Can't the defense hear everything you are saying, see where you are pointing and figure out how to beat that?

Hendricks: Yeah but we point sometimes for pass blocking and sometimes for run blocking. Then we use codes R and L and choke and other things that only the O-Line knows the combination code. But when I'm pointing at a linebacker, for example, he doesn't know if it's for run blocking or pass blocking or who is going to be assigned to block him. So they really can't pick up on it.

GH: The area of the field that you play on has been referred to as "the pit", and for good reason. Just how physical is it for you and the guards working in that area?

Hendricks: It gets pretty nasty at times. There is always a lot of cheap stuff that the D Lineman do. They don't always play by the rules and they will try to get the better of you any way they can. The thing is, you got to show them that you are willing to play just as nasty as they do. It is definitely the nastiest area of the field. It's an all day battle. You line up so close to each other and you are constantly banging and banging at each other. After a while it takes it's toll and then things can get even more nasty.

GH: Kheon, how has your role changed from last year? Are you doing anything different?

Hendricks: Last year I kind of played off of Byrne and Bev. They were seniors and excellent leaders. I didn't feel like I was needed to be a leader. We had those guys to do that. This year I feel like I have to pick up where they left off. I not only have to play well but I am very interested in getting the people around me playing well. That's something I had to get use to. I had not been a captain since my senior year in high school. I believe this has affected me both on and off the playing field. I feel it has made me a better person.

GH: Last year when I interviewed Mike Byrne he told me that he was spending a lot of time working with Kevin Uhll. That obviously paid off because Kevin got to start last year over some guys that were older. Is there anyone in particular that you have been working with this year?

"This year I find myself working a little more with Rob McDowell. I don't know exactly how to say it but I see something in him that makes me think he can be a great player here."

Hendricks: This year I find myself working a little more with Rob McDowell. I don't know exactly how to say it but I see something in him that makes me think he can be a great player here. So when I see him doing something wrong or struggling I always try to help him out. He is playing at guard now but when he first came here he played center. We were the only two centers and I wanted to try and leave that legacy that Delaware would have a good center. He can definitely handle that but right now he is playing guard and backup center.

GH: Who are the starters on the O-Line right now?

Hendricks: LT is Corey Nicholson. LG is Rob McDowell. I'm the center. RG is Jon Herrman. RT is Kevin Uhll.

GH: I know that the staff doesn't like to discuss injuries too much but what is the status of Sam Burrows and Chris Daino?

Hendricks: We are expecting to have both of them back. Burrows got injured early in camp but he is back at practice now. Daino is still rehabbing. I think Daino can come back after the Maryland game and Burrows could be available any time now.

GH: Do you have any personal goal for yourself this season?

Hendricks: The only goal I set for myself is to play better than last year. I want to continue to get better.

GH: If you do, then you are going to make a lot of Delaware fans real happy. Now does the offensive line set any goals as a unit?

Hendricks: We don't set anything in particular but Coach Wrobo wants us to do, as he puts it, "steady the ship". He says there is going to be ups and downs in the offensive line play all season. As a unit we have to find a way to steady that ship and be consistent throughout the season.

GH: Have any of the Pro scouts come out to look at you yet?

Hendricks: Yeah, they have been around. I try not to pay much attention to them right now.

GH: Besides yourself what other players have they been looking at?

Hendricks: Robbie Agnone and Ronald Talley.

"Last year after beating Northern Iowa when we got snowed-in at the hotel was pretty special. That was great for team chemistry."

GH: Is there a particular game that you have played in at Delaware that is your favorite?

Hendricks: I would say without a doubt, last year at Navy. The way the offense was so explosive that day. We felt like any play that was called we could execute it to perfection. The coaches were talking all week about the challenge ahead and how good their nose guard was. What we did that day will always be special for me.

GH: What has been your favorite experience at Delaware so far?

Hendricks: Last year after beating Northern Iowa when we got snowed-in at the hotel was pretty special. That was great for team chemistry. It was a great win. Nobody was complaining. It was just a great time that we were all together.

GH: Is there a particular game this season that you are really looking forward to?

Hendricks: I'm really looking forward to the Maryland game. That's my home state. My best friend is the captain there. My old high school coach (Coach Griffin) is now a coach at Maryland.

GH: What kind of defense does Maryland play and is it similar to any other team that we played against?

Hendricks: They run both three-down and four-down but basically they base with three-down. So they base out of a three-five defense. I think that Navy played pretty much the same defense. Eastern and Southern Illinois ran versions of that defense as well.

GH: What is your main assignment against that defense?

Hendricks: My main assignment is to make sure I have the right backer called out on each play. Communication is the key against this type of defense. The linebackers are out walking around. I have to make sure that I identify the one that we are working to from the offensive line.

GH: Going into the game Saturday, how does the team view Maryland?

Hendricks: We're facing Maryland just as if we were facing West Chester. We're going expecting to win but we also know that we have to play good clean football to get out of there with a victory. We can't have any mental lapses against Maryland.

GH: Kheon, the readers of GoHens.net want to thank you very much for sharing some time with us and we will all be cheering the Hens on against Maryland.

Hendricks: Thank you, sir.