Minium: A pep talk from Michael Irvin inspired ODU football player Ryan Henry to succeed
Through Harry mini
NORFOLK, Virginia – Ryan henry could have been just another kid lost on the wicked streets of downtown Miami. He grew up in a middle class neighborhood, but, as he puts it, “the neighborhood” was only a few blocks away.
“This is where most of my friends lived,” he said. “This is where I spent my time.
“Most of my friends were on a different path doing negative things. I didn’t really take life seriously.”
Going to school, staying out of trouble, going to college, or getting a good job, those things weren’t important to his friends, and for a very long time, not to him either.
His father, Charles, a former University of Miami football player who briefly played for the Miami Dolphins, worried about his son and did everything he could to save him. He was involved with his teachers, counseled his son, and often took time off from his job as a security guard at Miami Baptist Hospital when his son was in trouble at school.
“I would go study with him in the library,” said Charles Henry.
For a very long time, his efforts were in vain.
Although a gifted athlete, Henry didn’t play football in high school – he didn’t try or was academically ineligible.
He missed a summer school he had to pass to play before his senior year at Southridge High School and watched from the stands as the Spartans won a Florida State Championship.
He graduated from Southridge without having played football. “I didn’t even have 10 seconds of film,” he said.
Yet surprisingly, nearly five years later, Henry isn’t just starting out as a linebacker for Old Dominion, but he’s also the ODU’s main tackle.
On Saturday night, he returns to his hometown as the ODU (2-6 overall, 1-3 Conference USA) visits Florida International (1-7, 0-4) at FIU Stadium. His father, brother, Charles Jr., and sister, Chandra, will attend the game, as will other relatives and several of his friends.
The story of how a rebellious young man who didn’t play high school football turned into a disciplined college football player is a tribute to his persistence and fierce determination.
And also, to the love of a father.
Charles said things started to escalate with his son when he and Ryan’s mother Eunice Gibson separated in 2012. Charles took custody of the three children, and although the separation was amicable and that Gibson remains very present in the lives of his children, divorce is always hard with children.
Shortly after the split Charles decided to return to the University of Miami and graduate and in 2015, 27 years after his last football game with the Hurricanes, he graduated.
It was a difficult time for Charles as he was working full time, was in school and also a single father.
Charles Henry said something clicked on his son after his senior year of high school.
“He saw his friends get scholarships and go to school, and it a bit eaten up at him,” he said.
But the turning point came when his father took him to a University of Miami football game. Charles Henry played football with Michael Irvin, the former Miami and Dallas Cowboys star and current NFL network analyst.
“I would play with Michael and we would sit on the plane together on road trips,” said Charles Henry.
Charles and Ryan henry
“I saw him at a game and I said, ‘You have to talk to my son.’ When I explained what was going on, he immediately jumped up.
“I told him he was a good athlete but he wasn’t doing the right things. He knows what I’ve been through because his son plays too.”
Irvin spoke to Ryan about the discipline, hard work and sacrifice it took for him to be successful.
“It seemed like after that Ryan never looked back,” Charles Henry said.
Ryan henry said he realized how much time he had wasted and was determined to make up for lost time.
“I always knew I would play football,” he said. “But for some reason, I always felt like I had time to do it later.”
Turns out he just had enough time. He enrolled in ASA Junior College in Miami and joined the soccer team. He had a needs-based scholarship that paid for tuition, but his father had to pay for his room and board that first year.
In his second season, Henry got a scholarship and was starting out.
The transition from going to school to playing football can be a challenge for even the most disciplined players. It was harder for Henry, who had never done this before.
He relies on his father, who has seen him throughout his career. “I know you’re tired and don’t want to get up, but you have to go to class,” Ryan said, telling him his dad would tell him.
His teammates, friends and fans he met have all wondered why someone so fast, strong and talented wasn’t playing high school football.
“I had to tell the same story so many times,” Henry said. “It was a little hard to believe for a lot of people.”
After two seasons at the ASA, Henry considered transferring to Florida Atlantic and the CRF, but said he realized he had better get away from his friends in Miami.
“I wanted to go somewhere that I could help, somewhere that I could fit in,” he said, and ODU was that place.
Henry was a top runner when he played for the ODU in his debut season in 2019. Fortunately, the staff realized he had a lot to learn and limited his playing time to four games, which meant that he may have worn a red blouse.
When the staff was fired following the 2019 season, new defensive coordinator Blake seiler recognized that Henry was a natural inside linebacker and he thrived in that position.
He’s made 54 tackles in ODU’s eight games and rarely comes off the field. Jordan Young, the senior who is third among ODU’s all-time tackles, is second at 53.
Seiler said that upon hearing that Henry was from Southridge High School, he knew much of the story was missing.
“I was there to recruit several of his teammates,” said Seiler, who coached at West Virginia before coming to ODU. “I said to Ryan, ‘I don’t remember you.’ And that’s where I learned his story.
“I love this kid so much because of what he had to go through. Ryan’s dad deserves a lot of credit. He has done so much for Ryan and his other kids.”
Ryan Henry’s the struggles were not over after his arrival at the ODU. Shortly after the head coach Ricky rahne and its coaching staff were hired, the pandemic shut down ODU and all other schools in America. ODU athletes returned home and took online classes for months and met their coaches on Zoom.
It was five months before soccer players returned to campus, and soon after, they learned that the 2020 season would be canceled due to the pandemic.
“It was a really tough process,” Henry said. “I talked to my dad every day. The fact that I have him under my wing, that I have someone who has been through the process, has helped me a lot.
“I’m going to be honest, if I hadn’t had someone I was comfortable listening to, if I didn’t have my dad, I don’t think I could have overcome it all.
“Coach Seiler, he was always available to talk to us. He’s such a good coach. He gets the best out of all of us.”
ODU has lost several players in the transfer portal. Henry said David Blackwell, ODU’s 2019 defensive coordinator, gave him wise advice on staying.
“He told me ‘keep your notes and do whatever the new coaches tell you’,” Henry said. “He told me he knew I could play and the new coaches would love me too.”
Henry said regardless, the transfer portal was something he had never considered.
“I am a huge fan of loyalty,” he said. “Usually when I decide to be somewhere, I’ll stay there.
“The guys here, my teammates, they’re my brothers. That’s why I stayed.”
Henry had a lot to learn when he moved on to linebacker.
“He had to make calls, do readings and had complicated coverage responsibilities,” Seiler said. “He’s light years away from his debut and he’s growing every week.
“The thing with Ryan is he wants to be good, he wants to be good. He works to improve himself every day.”
His father recognizes in his son an impulse that he did not have.
“I often told him that I hadn’t made the effort that you made,” said Charles Henry. “I really didn’t apply myself like him.
“He keeps a chip on his shoulder. He wants to be the best. If you beat him in a race today, he wants to beat you tomorrow. He never gives up. He always keeps an underdog mentality.
“He knows how much he missed football and how much he still has to learn.”
Charles Henry has regrets about his playing career that go beyond his work ethic. He said he took his father for granted, that he had lost to cancer in his mid-twenties.
“I tell my son that I wish I could talk to my dad,” he said. “I never really called home like Ryan does. Child, you’re right in your life.
“Ryan is really good at it. He keeps in touch, both with me and his mom.
“I often say that in some ways my kids raised me. I learned so much from them.”
Saturday’s match at the FIU Stadium will be a triumphant return for Henry, who will play college football for the first time in his hometown.
“Ryan has come this far,” Charles Henry said. “He was able to put everything else aside and work hard. I know it wasn’t easy.
“He told me when he went to ODU that he was going to do his best. And he really did. I’m so proud of him.”
Nominated twice for the Pulitzer Prize in 39 years at the Virginian-Pilot, Minium covers ODU athletics for odusports.com Follow him on Twitter @Harry_MiniumODU, Instagram @ hbminium1 or email email@example.com