Henry hopes to be next undrafted success story
Every football player dreams, but the first time Mitchell Henry's eyes were opened to the NFL being a realistic possibility came during his freshman year at Western Kentucky.
Even then, he wasn't as certain as his coaches were.
"Coaches always told me that. Starting freshman year, they told me, 'You could play in the NFL,'" Henry recalled. "I really didn't listen to it a lot because that's a long way off. I don't want to think about that. I knew as a player I still had a long way to go."
Henry played as a true freshman for the Hilltoppers, spelling current Indianapolis Colts tight end Jack Doyle for two seasons. Technically, Henry played tight end in high school, but he never lined up in a three-point stance. It was under Doyle's wing that he learned the finer points of the position.
The starting job fell to Henry when Doyle graduated. He responded with 57 catches for 794 yards and six touchdowns in his final 24 collegiate games. Henry had a breakout performance against Middle Tennessee State in September, catching seven passes for a career-high 128 yards.
The 6-foot-4, 252-pound tight end ran a 4.69-second time in the 40-yard dash at his pro day with a 37-inch vertical and soon began flashing on radar of NFL teams. The Green Bay Packers were one of those teams.
The Packers brought Henry in for a pre-draft visit and then gave him a $5,000 signing bonus to sign as an undrafted free agent. He's one of five tight ends on Green Bay's offseason roster who'll be competing for a roster spot this summer.
"When I got done with my junior year, I knew it was a good possibility," Henry said of the NFL. "Even going through my senior year, I didn't want to think about it, but it's always in the back of your head. I really didn't know. I was just hoping I'd get a chance and I did."
Henry also had an offer from the Denver Broncos, but chose Green Bay because of his pre-draft experience in Green Bay and the Packers' track record with undrafted free agents making their active roster at tight end (Tom Crabtree, Brandon Bostick, Justin Perillo and Jake Stoneburner).
Henry believes he made the greatest strides in his blocking during his four years at Western Kentucky. He played in a West Coast offense during his first two years with the Hilltoppers before transitioning to a pro-style system during his last two seasons.
The structure of the offenses meant Henry had to be versatile. To make it happen, he honed his route running and took a lot of cues from Doyle to help improve his blocking. It was good preparation for what he'll need to make it in the NFL. The Packers are known for lining up their tight ends everywhere.
With organized team activities a week away, Henry and the Packers' other 17 undrafted rookies need to learn fast. This summer, the stakes will be raised significantly.
"Everybody controls their own destiny," Henry said. "I'm going to give it everything I got and hopefully if that situation comes I do make the team. Right now, I'm focused on one day at a time, learning the playbook, learning the system and learning how to be a professional. I'm just enjoying this experience."
-- firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @WesHod.