Sometimes it’s just too easy to forget that the NFL is made up of so many passionate athletes and coaches. After all, the professional football industry has many of the qualities of Hollywood, and the entertainment industry as a whole is more about what they want you to see than the real-life day-to-day struggles of modern life. But part of the magic of football is the simplicity too. This isn’t acting at all, the words are not scripted, and the risks of failure and injury are very real. These are real lives. These are men who embody the competitive passion. And there are those who, by the grace of God and their own calling, are there to help their journey.
The LA Rams have embodied the attraction of real-life larger-than-life personalities. Professional football players, coaches, and yes, even executives. But throughout the organization is a sense of just-down-the-block-in-the-neighborhood folks. The persons you like for who they are, not for what their title is or their television personality. The firm handshake. The smile in their eyes. Their infectious personality makes you forget they are part of an NFL football team and are more akin to people you would enjoy talking about the weather or the upcoming work week over cold beers and freshly grilled burgers.
Perhaps none as much as LA Rams defensive line coach Eric Henderson.
Now I’m not about to praise a guy just for showing up and doing his job. Coach Henderson would sniff that bullshit out a mile away. That’s not what this is. This is just down-to-earth respect for doing something special that I could never hope to accomplish. This is about a former player-turned-coach whose passion fills him up with a desire to give to the game he loves still.
Greatness comes in all forms. Sometimes it manifests itself in tremendous charitable works. Sometimes it is a lifelong devotion to ridding the world of poverty. But sometimes, it’s giving of oneself over and over again, of being the best for others that makes someone the best version of oneself. A trickle at a time, welcoming rookies, encouraging veterans, pushing elite players to be their ultimate best.
“99, you good!”
— Los Angeles Rams (@RamsNFL) July 31, 2021
When the LA Rams defensive line includes the likes of All-Pro Aaron Donald, it’s only natural to limit the attention to that one elite player. But that is not what Aaron Donald wants. And that’s not what Coach Henny delivers. Henny is that coach that we’ve all had in our lives who makes the nastiest grungiest sweat-packed drills seem like fun.
It’s Dawgwork folks. It’s that should-be-patented mantra for the LA Rams defensive front, thanks to the author and creator, Coach Henderson.
“Either you’re getting better or you ain’t.” is his motto, and is right there on his Twitter account.
He has a specific type of mindset. That Dawgwork criteria is showcased in an article at SportsPsychTips.com and is worth a peek. You see, the challenge is how to equally motivate each player, regardless of where they are starting from. It’s that mindset of embracing the work ethic, training, and preparation necessary to succeed in the NFL.
But it’s more than that. It’s the maturity combined with the killer instinct to dominate on each play, and then handle yourself as though it’s something you knew would happen all along. It’s a swagger. It’s that smug smile. And it’s that passion that knows that the way up is sometimes beating yourself down to the very bedrock of your essence. Then, once you’ve reached that point of no longer yielding to pain or fatigue, you are ready to build something strong, something permanent, something that will last.
Just because your coaches yell at you doesn’t mean they dislike you as a person. They may be giving you tough love because they truly care about you and want you to improve.
— Sports Psychology (@SportPsychTips) August 1, 2021
No, Coach Henny is not a military drill instructor. He isn’t about to break guys’ spirits down to their base essence by force or browbeating them. If they want to become the best NFL defensive linemen, he’s their guide. He is to NFL rookie hopefuls as Yoda is to the Jedi-to-be Luke Skywalker. All he can do is patiently instruct, guide, and oversee. He cannot make players do the right things to become great. He can only advise them on how to do the right things to become great.
And so, he continues to share his passion a bit at a time. Like a farmer, he is planting the seeds and hoping they take root. This year, the team boasts 12 defensive linemen, all hoping to make their mark in the NFL. Since his 2019 hiring Henderson as the LA Rams defensive line coach, the Rams defensive line finished third in the NFL in 2019, finished among the top five in 2020, and this year’s defensive line could be the best yet.
But perhaps the best part is the fact that through it all, Eric Henderson is still a warm smile, a strong friendly handshake, and a personable acquaintance who quickly becomes your friend at the first handshake, who would be welcome at virtually any table to share stories with. Some pretend to know greatness by putting on airs of aloofness. Others prove they know greatness by giving it away free of charge.
Eric Henderson is a great man and defensive line coach for the LA Rams. I don’t need to prove it. Aaron Donald and the rest of the LA Rams defensive linemen have it all under control already. All I can do is thank him for the difference he is making in the lives of his players and in the lives of those who have yet to play for him.
Well done, Coach Henny, well done.