Seantrel Henderson making the most of his opportunity

Pittsford, N.Y. — The question hasn't changed for Seantrel Henderson.

It followed him from Cretin-Derham Hall High School in Minnesota to the University of Miami, and now it's hovering over his head as he stands on the practice field at Bills training camp, sweat pouring down his face.

He was once considered the most talented high school player in the country, but it took the Bills taking a chance on him in the seventh-round of the 2014 NFL Draft for him to be standing on the campus of St. John Fisher College competing for a spot on an NFL roster.

"It was to the point where no team could've given me an opportunity," Henderson says. "Even though everybody said I have this unbelievable talent, if I would have never been picked up, then who was I?"

Nobody doubts Henderson's talent. He moves his feet in such a way that most 6-foot-7-inch, 330-pound men could only dream of. He was the No. 1 recruit in the country coming out of high school and started as a true freshman at Miami.

No, the question surrounding Henderson has never been one of talent, it's one of commitment to the game on and off the field.

"I think he's someone that can play in this league," Bills coach Doug Marrone said. "We knew that coming in. It's just a matter of, on a daily basis, can he do everything he can? It's more from the outside than on the inside. He has what it takes to play."

That's why Henderson has been taking all of the reps with the Bills' first-team offense at left tackle during training camp while Cordy Glenn is sidelined with an illness. Most seventh-round picks don't walk into a starting spot in their first NFL training camp, but most seventh-round picks don't have first-round talent, either.

"It's crazy, I never thought it was going to come this soon," Henderson said.

Henderson wasn't even sure if an NFL team would give him a shot. By the time the NFL Draft rolled around in May, Henderson's football career was spiraling out of control.

Coming off a troubled career at Miami in which he was suspended three times for marijuana use and dealt with multiple injuries, Henderson failed his drug test at the NFL Scouting Combine and left his pro day workout early. Some said he quit, while Henderson said he was dehydrated.

At that point, the reason didn't matter. It was just another one of a long series of events that demonstrated a pattern of poor decisions from Henderson, which he realizes now.

"Down in Miami, it's not what went wrong, it's what I was actually doing as a player and as a student," Henderson said. "I was just maturing. At the same time, I was enjoying the fact that I came from Minnesota and that I was down in Miami. I was still young. I was still me. I was a kid. I was just trying to adjust to the work, adjust to not having my parents around, adjust to football being my job but in college."

The adjustment wasn't easy, and Henderson matured slower than most. So when he was waiting to hear his name called on draft weekend, panic started to set in. Henderson was finally seeing the consequences of his actions.

"After Friday night was over, they said I was a top five pick for the next day. I didn't get drafted in the fourth round, fifth, sixth. In the seventh, every time the phone rang, whether it was a coach or a family member, my stomach sank."

Finally, Henderson got the call he was waiting for. Bills general manager Doug Whaley was on the other end to tell him he was their pick in the seventh round. Whaley recognized the talent, but the message for Henderson was simple.

"We just need you to meet us halfway, be on time, do everything you're asked to do, and you'll be successful."

Fast forward three months. Henderson is fresh off his first NFL start at left tackle, a preseason game against the Giants in the Hall of Fame Game. He admits he was nervous to go up against Jason Pierre-Paul, but he more than held his own. After mauling the veteran defensive end a few times, the pressure seemed to fade for Henderson.

"I feel one certain type of way during the game," Henderson said. "I get in my zone and I just don't get out of it."

The night wasn't perfect, though. Marrone said Henderson has a long way to go. He overheated a bit before exiting the game and had a few lapses in technique.

Left guard Chris Williams knows what Henderson is going through. Williams was a first-round pick expected to play left tackle as a rookie. He struggled and has bounced around to various teams. Now he's a guard.

"His head's spinning right now a little bit," Williams said. "I wish I was as physically gifted as he is, that's for sure."

It's still early for Henderson, but he's handling himself the right way. Maybe he's finally recognizing the talent he has. He says falling in the draft was the final wakeup call he needed.

As he stands in that late July heat, he speaks softly. He's still catching his breath from a long afternoon practice. There's genuine appreciation in his voice when he talks about Whaley and Marrone taking a chance on him. Henderson is, for the first time in a long time, happy to be on the football field, and it's all because the Bills gave him a shot.

"It means everything to me," Henderson says.

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