• 73°

Gallagher column: Henry finds success at Wake Forest

It was Jan. 2, 2007, a day Keith Henry will never forget. How could he?
He had starred as a prep football player at small-town Maiden and became an All-American at small-college Catawba.
But this was bigger than all that.
Henry was walking into the Orange Bowl as an assistant coach for Wake Forest, the ACC champion. A 24-13 loss to Louisville hurt, but it is now a distant memory. The excitement of being in Miami for a BCS bowl is what he’ll always remember.
“I had never experienced anything like that in my life,” Henry said recently from his campus office. “Tears came to my eyes. It was a once-in-a-lifetime thing.”
Maybe.
Maybe not.
Many experts expect the Demon Deacons, not Clemson, to win the ACC title again this season. Henry’s rise to prominence coincides with that of his school. Entering his eighth season with Jim Grobe, Wake Forest is a player in the world of big-time college football.
“When teams used to see Wake Forest on the schedule, they wrote it in with a pen as a W,” Henry said. “Now, it’s with a pencil.”

It’s not surprising that Henry is tasting success at the Division I level. It’s all he ever knew as a football player.
“In Maiden, football is what you lived for,” Henry said. “At 3 o’clock on every Friday, the mills closed down.”
Henry had a chance to play for Carson-Newman but wanted to stay closer to home so his family could watch him play. He settled for the beautiful campus in Salisbury.
“Bill Mauldin recruited me,” Henry said. “Catawba was a great fit.”
Henry suffered through three losing seasons in four years, but his claim to fame was against Carson-Newman in 1987. Catawba won just four games that fall, but a 2-0 win against the Eagles is still considered among the school’s greatest Saturdays.
With two minutes remaining in the first quarter, Henry, a free safety, blocked a punt. The ball rolled into the end zone, and Henry found himself fighting teammate Jim Tomsula for the loose ball. It bounded out of play for a safety.
“It was one of the biggest victories I’ve had,” Henry said. “What I really remember is that we stopped Carson-Newman three times inside the 5. But we went in with the mindset you can’t look at the C-N on the helmets.”

Henry had the same mindset when he joined Grobe at Ohio University.
Ohio was bad.
“They had a lot of kids where football wasn’t important to them,” he said. “Grobe did a good job of recruiting local kids within a 100-mile radius. So when we played the Kent States, the Akrons or the Bowling Greens, it meant something to them.”
Ohio also started redshirting kids. It paid off. Ohio went from two wins in Henry’s first season to eight by his fourth.
One day, Grobe called his assistants in. He had accepted the job at Wake Forest. He was determined to take his coaches with him to Tobacco Road.
“He invited all the guys, and I was the first one to raise my hand,” Henry said with a big grin.

Three days later, Henry found himself in a van coming down the Blue Ridge mountains. It was 2 a.m., and it was snowing. He didn’t care.
“I would’ve crawled back to North Carolina,” he said.
Henry found a program that was on its knees, crawling.
“When we got here, I wasn’t sure we could beat Ohio,” he admitted. “But we used the same formula. We got kids with great character and academics.”
Today, Henry and the Deacons trot onto BB&T Field for the 2008 home opener against Mississippi. Henry will be in his element: on the gridiron helping mold young men.
“At Catawba, I thought I wanted to major in business,” he said. “But something just wasn’t there. I wanted to help individuals grow and show them what people showed me.”
Henry has a good listener in West Rowan grad Tristan Dorty, a redshirt freshman. Henry is coaching the defensive line and loves what Dorty is bringing to Wake.
Dorty is a perfect example of the Wake Forest recruit. A small-town guy with big-time values and work ethic.
“I’ll tell you what,” Henry said. “The sky’s going to be the limit for that guy. He doesn’t know how good he can be.”
It’s Henry’s job to teach him.
“Dorty’s very explosive,” said Henry, who expects Dorty to get some quality minutes against Ole Miss. “He just has a nose for the football.”

It’s doubtful Henry will have tears in his eyes today at kickoff time, but you can bet that Orange Bowl visit is still in the back of his mind. The pageantry and excitement surrounding one of college football’s biggest stages is second to none.
“It’s the way they treat you,” Henry said. “The escorts, the nice meals, all of the activities …
“Game Day was like the Super Bowl. There were 25,000 people waiting on us. And here I am, a country boy from Maiden at the Orange Bowl.”
Henry may have spoken too soon when he said it was a once-in-a-lifetime thing. Today, Henry and Wake Forest start a season with high hopes of making it back to a BCS bowl game.
Hopes of success that might eventually bring tears to Keith Henry’s eyes.

Contact Ronnie Gallagher at 704-797-4287 or rgallagher@salisburypost.com.

Comments

Comments closed.

Local

Salisbury will make history with installation of marker commemorating 1906 lynchings

Local

More than 100 years later, family of World War I veteran receives medals, honors on his behalf

Local

Commissioners to schedule public hearing for Reaper’s Realm rezoning application

Coronavirus

COVID-19 deaths in county grow to 316 as Delta variant spreads

Local

David Freeze: More than expected happens on trip so far

Business

Opening of State Employees’ Credit Union is the fulfillment of a vision for Mary Ponds, Granite Quarry

Local

Swimming: Salisbury native DeSorbo coaching in Olympics

Local

‘Mr. Robert’ retires after 24 years serving children

Lifestyle

Library’s summer reading clock winding down

College

Catawba athletics: Busy fall planned

Local

Community Care Clinic receives grant that will improve its diagnostic capabilities

Business

Biz Roundup: Chamber unveils theme for Total Resource Campaign

Elections

Candidates for local, state races talk with voters at Sloan Park

Education

Summer institute teachers receive $5,000 stipends, eligible for more bonuses

Nation/World

Mask guidance divides parents heading into new school year

Nation/World

Frustration as Biden, Congress allow eviction ban to expire

Crime

Salisbury Police charge 33 during narcotics roundup

Local

Crews respond to fire at Rowan County Landfill

Nation/World

$1 trillion infrastructure plan clears Senate hurdle

College

College-bound North Carolina football player shot to death

Legion baseball

American Legion baseball: Rowan bounces back behind Schenck, reaches semifinals today

Education

Johnson C. Smith, Pfeiffer universities among latest to pay off student debts

Kannapolis

American Legion baseball: Kannapolis ends season

Business

Evictions looming as Congress refuses to extend ban that expires today