After finishing practice for the New York Giants on Friday, defensive tackle Dwayne Hendricks grabbed his playbook and cell phone and headed back to his apartment a few miles from Met Life Stadium.
When he wasn't studying in preparation for Sunday night's game against the Philadelphia Eagles, the Millville native was calling friends for updates on Millville High School's South Jersey Group IV semifinal game against Washington Township.
Hendricks not only played for the Thunderbolts, the 2004 Millville graduate and two-time Press All-Star served as a volunteer assistant coach for the team between stints on the Giants' practice squad in 2009 and 2010.
"I obviously haven't been able to get to a game this year, but I've been keeping up with them all season," Hendricks said in a phone interview. "I called coach (Jason) Durham and some of the other coaches this week to wish them luck. It's really great to see them doing so well."
Hendricks is also doing well.
The 6-foot-3, 305-pounder began this season on the practice squad, but was promoted to the active roster for the first time on Oct. 14 when Giants defensive tackle Jimmy Kennedy was suspended for four games for violating the league's performance-enhancing drug policy.
Hendricks, 25, made his NFL debut on Nov. 6 in the Giants' 24-20 victory at New England. He did not get any snaps on defense, but played extensively on special teams.
"Playing in that game really meant a lot to me," said Hendricks, who was deactivated for the other games. "The goal for every football player is to play in an NFL game and to finally get that opportunity was really special.
"Everything happened so fast that game that I didn't have time to be star-struck or anything like that. I just want to do anything I could to help us get a win. Beating the Patriots was a big win for us."
Suiting up against the Patriots was a reward for the hard work and determination that helped Hendricks get to the NFL. After a standout career at the University of Miami, he signed with the Giants as a free agent in 2009, but was cut at the end of the preseason and did not join their practice squad until six weeks into the regular season. Last year, he was released again and joined the Giants practice squad again for the final seven weeks.
In between stints, he served as a substitute teacher in the Millville school system while also helping to coach the Thunderbolts.
Once the NFL lockout ended, he reported to Giants' training camp and impressed both the coaches and his teammates with his work ethic enough to join the practice squad again at the outset of the season.
"He's developed a lot since he first got here," Giants defensive tackle Rocky Bernard told the Newark Star Ledger last month. "He was a little undersized, so he got in the weight room and bulked himself up. He's just one of those guys who just keeps quiet and works hard every day."
During the week, Hendricks' role has not changed that much since his promotion. He lines up with the scout team in practice against the Giants' starting offense. This week, he was emulating Eagles defensive tackles Mike Patterson and Cullen Jenkins.
Ironically, he counts Eagles defensive tackle Antonio Dixon among his best friends. The two were teammates at Miami and were both signed as rookie free agents in 2009. Dixon is on the injured reserve list after suffering a torn triceps against San Francisco on Oct. 4.
"The biggest difference is I get to jump in and take a few reps with the defense now that I'm on the active roster," Hendricks said. "I feel like I've made a lot of progress and improvement, especially with my pass rush. One of the advantages of being in my situation is that I'm allowed to work on getting better every day and I'm hoping it will pay off. I'm hoping I reach a point where I'm playing in every game instead of just one."
Besides playing against the Patriots, another event had a profound impact on Hendricks this month.
November 7th marked the fifth anniversary of the death of former Hurricanes defensive end Bryan Pata, who was shot in the back of the head as he was walking toward the apartment he shared with Hendricks and Pata's girlfriend, Jada Brody. The murder is still unsolved.
Hendricks keeps in contact with Pata's mother, Jeanette, and participates in a football camp in North Miami each summer.
"It's been very hard for her," Hendricks said. "Every parent wants to see their son or daughter graduate from college and she was denied that chance. Hopefully, they'll catch whoever did it, so she can finally get some closure."