Son of Young Thundering Herd player starting at Middle Tennessee
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Charles Henry, the youngest of the Young Thundering Herd in 1971, never pushed his son into football. Christian Henry played a lot of soccer at Dania, Fla., along with a little basketball.
But it seems Charles Henry had his influence. In 2006, he got the ultimate in pleasant surprises, a call from Marshall University telling him he was selected for induction into the school's Athletic Hall of Fame. It was his reward for four tough years of helping keep MU's football dreams alive after the tragic plane crash of 1970.
"My wife called me that day and said, 'When you get home, you've got to listen to this voicemail,' " he said. "So she and my son were waiting patiently when I got home, and I listened to it. It was humbling and a pleasant surprise.
"I felt good that my efforts were being recognized in that manner. It was exciting and humbling all at the same time."
Charles Henry said that seemed to redirect his son's sports ambitions from the pitch to the gridiron. Christian Henry entered high school later in 2006, as Dad prepared to head north to celebrate his induction. The "We Are Marshall" movie was about ready to be released, as well.
"I think it was the second week of school in his freshman year, and he came home and said, 'Dad, I'm going to go out for football tomorrow,' " Charles Henry recalled. "But him not playing football - we kind of laughed about it - he came home from practice and said, 'Dad, I didn't know anything about football. The only thing I knew about football was from playing a video game.'
"And from that, all he knew was that there was a quarterback, a running back and a wide receiver."
Eventually, Christian Henry figured out what a linebacker is and, to Dad's excitement, he wanted to be one. That's where Charles Henry played, coming to Marshall as a 17-year-old, 160-pound native of Conway, S.C. When Marshall was granted a waiver to play freshmen after the plane crash wiped out the 1970 team, Charles Henry was the youngest college player in America.
In today's terms, none of that sounds real. If you're still 17 when you come to college, you're going to get redshirted; most kickers come in heavier than 160 pounds. In 1971, Charles Henry and his teammates were outsized by everybody on the schedule.
Yet, Charles Henry led that 2-8 Young Thundering Herd in tackles in 1971, and had several big games in wins and losses alike - he is said to have had 30 tackles in a game against Miami (Ohio) in 1972.
"He told me some stories about how it was a young team and they weren't experienced, so it was hard for them to get wins," Christian Henry said. "But he always told me they tried, always played to the end of the game, never gave up."
Christian Henry never gave up either, quickly rising from a rawer-than-raw freshman to a first-team All-Broward County pick. When he signed at Middle Tennessee State of the Sun Belt Conference, there wasn't a thought of the Blue Raiders playing Dad's alma mater.
But a rapid-fire realignment brought MTSU to Conference USA and the East Division, so the Blue Raiders and Herd were suddenly guaranteed to play each other. When that game kicks off at 7:30 p.m. EDT Thursday at Floyd Stadium in Murfreesboro, Christian Henry will sport his No. 28 against the modern-day Herd on national TV (Fox Sports 1).
Like his father, Christian Henry is a bit undersized as a middle linebacker relative to his era - 6-foot, 224 pounds. A liberal studies major, he was named the team's most improved linebacker in both the 2012 and 2013 spring drills, and became a full-time starter in the middle.
He is the third-leading tackler on the Blue Raiders (47, 31 solo), and he has one sack to his credit. He is scheduled to play in his 33rd career game, 13 of them as a starter.
"As a father, you're always proud," Charles Henry said. "I'm proud of him as a football player, but I'm more proud of him as a young man. As far as his football career, he was very determined."
While Christian Henry certainly was aware of Marshall, the Herd was never quite at the forefront of his recruiting. That may or may not have been affected by his high school senior season being in 2009 - the time the Mark Snyder era had its last gasp in Huntington and Doc Holliday took over.
"They sent me a few questionnaires, they showed a little bit of interest, but it kind of died down toward the middle of the season, and they didn't really talk to me through the rest of my senior year," he said. "They kind of stepped up a little bit at the end, when signing day was coming up, but I already knew where I was going to school, so I didn't pay attention anymore."
He doubted Monday night that his father would make the 862-mile haul to Murfreesboro, and Charles Henry confirmed as much. He sees his son's games at Florida Atlantic and Florida International (all came to C-USA from the Sun Belt), and tries to make one trip a year to MTSU.
Had the game remained on its original date, last Saturday, that could have happened. But for a midweek game, work obligations tend to get in the way.
"He's going to be there in sprit, so I'm not worried about it," Christian Henry said.
So Charles Henry will be watching on the television, probably with a strange feeling. He talked about living in California and tracking down a Sunday paper just to see the Marshall score.
"My wife asked, 'How are you going to feel about this game?' " he said. "I said, 'Well, I'm going to have to stay close to home. I've got to be there for my son.' Hopefully, he'll do well and we'll see where it goes from there.
"It's going to be interesting."
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.