Seantrel Henderson can only remember one time walking into a room and not being the biggest person in it.
“Bryant McKinnie. You can see the actual inch he got on me. Other than that, I’ve never seen nobody really bigger than me,” said the 6-foot-7, 331-pound Henderson, the final member of the Buffalo Bills’ 2014 draft class.
The job for coach Doug Marrone and Co. will be to take that enormous piece of clay and mold it into an NFL offensive tackle.
If you were to draft a football team based solely on physical appearance, there’s no question Henderson would be off the board early.
“I’m a humongous guy,” he said Sunday, after the Bills’ second rookie minicamp practice. “I’ve got very long arms, long legs. That most definitely gives me the upside as far as my position. It’s hard for a guy to get around me. I get my hands on the guy, I feel like I can pretty much beat him. That’s my advantage.”
Of course, there’s a reason Henderson fell to the seventh round of the draft, and it has nothing to do with his size. He was suspended multiple times while at the University of Miami for marijuana use, and flunked a drug test at the NFL Scouting Combine in February.
“In college I had a lot of maturing to do,” said Henderson, who finishes most of his answers by addressing the reporter who asked him the question as “sir.’’
“I was coming from Minnesota, going down to Miami, whole different state, you know, I’m by myself.”
Coming out of Cretin-Derham Hall High School in St. Paul, Henderson was destined for stardom. He was the top-ranked offensive lineman in the country by both ESPN and Rivals. But his career at Miami was a letdown because of his off-the-field issues and injuries (back surgery and a concussion). He ended up starting 26 of 43 career games with the Hurricanes.
After his failed drug test at the combine, there was a very real possibility Henderson could have fallen out of the draft entirely. But the Bills prevented that with the 237th overall selection.
“It means the world to me, man. … I’ve never been more nervous than that day. Every time my phone rang or I got a text, my heart kind of dropped a little bit,” he said. “I was a little disappointed, but more disappointed at myself. Once the Bills did call me, it was just like a big relief, you know what I’m saying? Like everything’s going to be OK. I most definitely appreciate the whole coaching staff, the owner, the GM, everybody that believed in me. That actually still wanted me to come here and be a part of their team.”
Henderson said Buffalo is a good place for him because “there’s not much to do here but work, so no excuse.” That Willis McGahee-endorsed line of thinking may not be entirely accurate, but there’s no debating Buffalo is a far cry from South Beach.
“I had to teach myself a lot,” Henderson said of his time in college. “It was just a big learning experience. It actually took me a couple years, but at the same time, I don’t really have no regrets. I’m happy where I’m at. I wouldn’t change it for anything. I’m happy to be here in Buffalo.”
How long he stays will be decided both by his performance on the field and his ability to stay out of trouble off of it.
“We’ve talked to Seantrel and he knows that he’s got one shot,” Bills General Manager Doug Whaley said when Henderson was drafted. “He’s been dealing with some demons. Hopefully those demons are out of his life and why not give somebody — this is America — give somebody a chance?”
Henderson said he feels like he’s “come a long way” in his maturity. Of course, that will only be proved by his future actions.
“Come in, be on time. Accountable, reliable, dependable at all times,” is how he described his approach to the NFL. “I couldn’t have told you two years ago that I would even be here right now. A lot of things happened while I was in college as far as personal things. … But like I said, I’m happy to have this opportunity to be a Buffalo Bill.”
Marrone said “a lot of things” go into the team’s evaluation of a player like Henderson, who comes with substantial off-the-field concerns.
“Obviously it was something that we did a lot of research on,” the coach said. “We want to make sure that we know exactly what the situation is, exactly what we’re dealing with and seeing if we’re able to be the proper influence to make that change. And does the player want to make that change?”
That’s a question only Henderson can answer, but “if that happens we’re going to get ourselves one heck of a football player. If he doesn’t, he’ll go find another line of work,” Marrone said.
That’s not to say the coach doesn’t accept his share of responsibility in the reclamation project.
“I’d like to think I can influence people to be better in the community, better fathers, better husbands,” he said. “I’d like to have that type of influence on people, whether they’re coaches, whether they’re players … whatever they may be.
“When one of our players has a problem … the first thing I say is, ‘What could I have done better to help this person?’ That’s the first thing, and then ‘what could we have done better as an organization to make sure that we’ve educated our players to make the right decisions and do the right thing?’ I think that’s what this organization has been about long before I came here and I think it’s something that we want to continue and get better at.”
The Bills wrap up their three-day rookie minicamp with a final practice at 11:15 a.m. today.