Hasaan Henderson is open. The Nevada Wolf Pack junior is so open at all times, he’s the the 7-Eleven of wide receivers. He’s Motel 6, a Nevada casino and Denny’s all rolled into one long-legged, long-armed package that was seemingly born to catch a football.
Yes, Hasaan Henderson is always open, even when all logic and your own two eyes suggest he isn’t. Just ask Texas A&M cornerback Brandon Williams.
Williams thought he had Henderson covered late in the third quarter last Saturday in College Station, Texas. He had him so covered, well, he thought he’d just run over him and knock him to the ground in the back right corner of the end zone just to let each one of the 102,000-plus fans in the stands see how covered Henderson was at the moment. If there was ever a time that Henderson wasn’t open, well, this was it. Williams’ No. 21 maroon jersey completely wiped out Henderson’s No. 12 silver jersey from view. Williams, a converted running back, had Henderson so well covered two officials threw flags to the ground because the rule book doesn’t allow a defensive back to cover a wide receiver that well.
That didn’t stop Wolf Pack quarterback Tyler Stewart, though, from lofting a pass Henderson’s way from the 27-yard line with the Pack trailing 38-13. “It came down to a talk I had with Tyler Stewart before (the game),” Henderson said., “He said, ‘If you get in that situation I’m going to throw it to your back shoulder. So slow down and make the play. That’s what happened.”
Miracles are not accidents or luck in college football. They only look that way.
“It goes back to preparation,” said Henderson, who wasn’t surprised at all to see the ball coming his way despite Williams an inch from his face. “It all started with Coach Hof (Jim Hofher). He said (in practice last week), ‘They are going to be rough. They are going to be aggressive.'”
Hofher, the Pack’s wide receiver’s coach, was absolutely right. Williams, who is still learning how to be a defensive back, was all roughness and aggressiveness on the play, just as Hofher warned.
‘”They are different types of corners in the big-time SEC,'” Henderson said Hofher told him. ‘”It’s going to be something you haven’t faced before. So if they do grab you, keep fighting and make a big play.'”
Henderson made a play that will live forever in Wolf Pack history. The final score (44-27 Texas A&M) will be long forgotten. Henderson’s catch, though, will forever be the one that future Pack touchdown catches are judged against.
As the 6-foot, 205-pound Williams ran over the 6-5, 220-pound Henderson in the back right corner of the end zone, Henderson put both his arms around the smaller cornerback in an effort to reach for the ball.
“As the ball came down I saw it coming,” Henderson said. “But once he pushed me, it went away.”
Henderson then remembered something former Wolf Pack wide receiver Brandon Wimberly taught him. Wimberly, one of the toughest wide receivers to ever wear the Silver and Blue, would never let a little cornerback keep him from the football even if that little cornerback crawled up inside his jersey the way Williams seemed to want to do with Henderson last Saturday.
“He said, ‘When it touches your hand and you can’t see it, just flip it,'” Henderson said. “It’s kind of like (New York Giants wide receiver) Odell Beckham. (On his great catch last year) He said when he lost it, it hit his hand so he flipped it to his body. It’s the same thing. I learned that from Wim long before Odell Beckham’s catch. I give a lot of credit to him for teaching me that.”
The pass from Stewart hit Henderson’s outstretched right hand as he was falling backward to the ground and Williams was running up his jersey. The ball then rolled up his arm, right into his stomach. Henderson then secured the ball and fell to the ground on his right side for the improbable touchdown.
Yes, it looked like luck. It looked like Henderson had no right to catch that ball. The ball, after all, somehow hit his hand and took a lucky bounce right into his stomach. All that so-called luck and good fortune, though, was really preparation, confidence, work ethic and a strong will to compete all coming together at the right moment.
“The ball hit my hand as soon as (Williams) pushed me,” Henderson said. “That was one thing I worked on with Brandon Wimberly a couple years ago.”
Henderson’s catch can now be viewed over and over again all over the internet. He would finish the game with five catches for 69 yards and now has 16 catches for 187 yards and two scores this season and 90 catches for 1,092 yards and seven touchdowns for his career. The kid who came to Nevada as a high school quarterback from Las Vegas High three years ago hoping to be the next Colin Kaepernick is now the next Odell Beckham.
But even his solid numbers on Saturday were a bit misleading. Henderson, after all, was always open. The Aggies, it seemed, simply couldn’t cover him. Henderson caught five passes but also drew two pass interference penalties (not including the declined penalty on Williams) and a defensive holding.
“Coach Hof and Coach (Brian) Polian told me before the game, ‘You have to make plays in this game,'” Henderson said, ‘”and play like the player we thought you could be and play to the standards we want you to live up to.'”