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August 19, 2008When North Dakota State College of Science offensive coordinator Mike Shafer hears the early stories about Ricky Henry in fall camp, he just smiles.
For two years Shafer coached the former Omaha Burke product at NDSCS, and he loved every minute of it.
After coaching Henry in the 2006 and 2007 seasons, Shafer called the 6-foot-4, 305-pound lineman one of the most intense and physical football players he'd ever seen. It's those two characteristics that Shafer feels will make Henry a perfect fit for the style of play new head coach Bo Pelini wants to instill at Nebraska.
"Ricky knows one way to play this football game, and that's just full out nasty," Shafer said. "That's really just like the good ole Nebraska days, and that's why I think he's going to fit in there, because that's just the way he plays."
In just two weeks of practice, Henry has definitely taken fall camp by storm and has arguably been one of the best stories to come out of camp.
Henry is currently in a position battle with fifth-year senior Mike Huff for the starting left guard position. Senior starting right guard Matt Slauson said Henry made his presence felt in fall camp immediately in day one of practice.
"He's insane," Slauson said. "His motor never quits. The first day he had no clue what he was doing. The way he played was somewhat inspiring. Everything that he did was 100 miles an hour. It didn't matter if he went the wrong way, he was going to hit somebody and he was going to throw them down. It was awesome. He's probably the most intense lineman we've got."
When Shafer flashes back to Henry's career at NDSCS, he said there are two specific stories he remembers best.
Shafer said on every passing play he called, Henry would fly off the line and go on a hunt the second the ball left the quarterback's hand.
"You're always going to see Ricky 20 yards down field trying to smoke a DB," Shafer said laughing. "He loved to do that. On each pass play we had, as soon as that ball was released, he was downfield trying to get him anybody he could. That's what you saw in his highlight film."
The other story Shafer remembers best about Henry from his two-year JUCO career came during a pick-up football game he was playing in about a foot of snow on a frigid and cold North Dakota day.
Shafer said Henry slipped on some ice, and he had about a "quarter-sized hole" in his arm where you could literally see the bone.
"After the game, (Henry) comes up to my room and knocks on the door and says, 'Shafs, do you think I should get this taken care of?' He shows me about a quarter-sized hole on his arm that went down to his bone. You could see the bone," Shafer said. "I said, 'Ricky, go get stitches in that now!' He said, 'I don't need stitches in it.' I said, 'Get your butt to the hospital and get it taken care of.'
"It was the craziest thing I've seen. He had this huge hole in his arm where you could see his bone and he didn't even think he needed to get it taken care. It was bleeding pretty badly in the game for an hour, and he lifted up his shirt and it was drenched in blood. Ricky didn't care though, he was just out there having fun playing football. Even when was he playing with all the blood coming out, he was knocking the crap out of people."
It's that toughness and attitude Henry has displayed on the field that have many people comparing him to former Husker and current St. Louis Rams offensive lineman Richie Incognito.
"I tell everybody this, if I got to see Richie (Incognito) play, I bet he'd be exactly like Rick," Slauson said.
However, when people talk about Henry, Shafer said there is a misconception about him that he's a bad character guy off the field. Shafer said that couldn't be further from the truth, as in two years at NDSCS he never had a problem or issue with Henry off the field.
In fact, Henry made major academic strides after not qualifying to NU in 2006. Henry received his two-year Associates Degree this past May and he enrolled in summer classes and moved to Lincoln in early June.
"Everybody talks to me about Ricky about how he had problems in high school, but we had no problems with him at all, none whatsoever," Shafer said adamantly. "He never did anything like flipping out or trying to be a jerk or trying to hurt somebody. He had none of that. I don't think he ever had maturity problems.
"I think people just said that about him by the way he played, because that's how nasty he was. The kid played a football game the way it's supposed to be played, and that's 100 miles per hour and just being nasty. That's just the way he's always played the game I think."
Nebraska offensive line coach Barney Cotton said earlier last week that he's been very impressed with what he's seen from Henry in camp.
Typically a newcomer from the junior college ranks can struggle with the mental side of the game in the early portions of training camp, but that hasn't been a problem for Henry.
"The one thing that Ricky brings to the table is that he's one of the most physical guys on this football team," Cotton said. "He was very physical in high school, he was very physical on his junior college film. The one thing where he has earned everybody's respect immediately is how physical he is.
"Everyday people are amazed at how he finishes. You watch him on film, he shows up. We show a little clip to our players on great efforts at meeting times, and he's been on there a couple times with the effort and his physicality."
When Shafer talks to his new crop of linemen in Wahpeton, N.D., he said Henry is an example they all should look to follow. Henry came to junior college with a goal, and that was to get back to Nebraska. Obviously it's happened, and now he's taking advantage of every minute of it.
"We're very proud of Ricky," Shafer said. "He's really worked hard to get back to Nebraska. We talk and text still with him and I can tell you he's so happy to be home. He's really happy to be there."