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View from the East
Thursday, January 31, 2002

By Al Myatt
ECU Beat Writer for The News & Observer

Tropical Excursion All Business for Focused 'Skinner'

©2002 Bonesville.net

Most people who go to Hawaii are there to have a good time — to enjoy the beach, relax and get away from their normal responsibilities.

Leonard Henry, who will play in the Hula Bowl on Saturday, is an exception.

The former East Carolina running back said his trip to the islands this week is business. Henry moved himself onto the radar of the NFL scouts with 1,432 rushing yards in the regular season of his senior year and he bolted for 195 more in the GMAC Bowl, finishing second to Junior Smith on ECU’s career rushing list.

Henry spent several weeks in New Orleans working with conditioning expert Mackie Shilstone after signing with a New Jersey-based agency to represent him professionally. Former Pirates quarterback David Garrard also worked out under Shilstone’s supervision before playing in the Senior Bowl in Mobile, AL, last Saturday.

After Hawaii, Henry will focus on preparing himself for the NFL combine in Indianapolis in late February.

“I’ve been blessed, man,” Henry said last Friday afternoon before flying to Hawaii on Sunday. “Because if you had told me I would have been in this situation last year I would have looked at you funny. It’s just hard work, man. I never quit.

“I’m a patient-type guy because if things are not working out for me today that doesn’t mean things are not going to work out for me tomorrow. That’s the way I’m trying to approach this preparation to get ready for the NFL because there are days that you’re going to have that’s going to be good and there are days you’re going to have that’s going to be great.”

Henry is the only child of Charlie and Teresa Henry of Clinton and he credits their influence.

“The building block to that (attitude) is my parents,” he said. “They’re the backbone of what they’ve established in me and just trying to prepare myself for the best days.”

Many folks back home in Clinton don’t call Henry by his given name.

“Everybody back home calls me ‘Skinner,’ ” Henry said. “My father told me that he and my mother were sitting, watching American Bandstand, and Dick Clark introduced the band, Lynyrd Skynyrd. For some odd reason, he said that’s what we’re going to name our child.”

The nickname stuck. ECU running backs coach Jerry McManus also calls Henry “Skinner.”

“You’ve really got to know me to call me ‘Skinner’ but that’s where that name came from,” Henry said.

Clinton is the same prep program that produced former ECU back Jerris McPhail, who went on to play in the NFL.

Henry wrote a letter this past season to the Clinton football program, care of Dark Horses coach Bob Lewis. It wasn’t directed to the stars of the team or even the starters. Henry wrote to the reserves about the importance of maintaining a positive attitude for the good of the program.

Lewis posted the letter on the wall of the weight room. Clinton High was unbeaten in 2001 and won the state 2-A championship.

“The message I sent to the team, that’s really, that’s me,” Henry said. “Ever since I’ve been at East Carolina, Jamie (Wilson) was the guy ahead of me and I just had to wait my turn. I could have easily folded. I could have easily blamed everybody in the world. I could have easily stopped working hard but I think that’s the credit I give myself. If it’s not working out for me right now I’m patient, but I continue to work hard because you never know when your chance or opportunity can come.

“I didn’t want to be the type to sit back and when my chance came, I wasn’t prepared. So that’s why I always stayed focused and I always worked hard, as if I was going out and I was going to play a whole game. I might not play the whole game but I was always prepared to make sure that, hey, Jamie could go down any play. I could go out and have to finish the whole game up.

"So that’s one thing I’ve always had in my mind — always be ready, always be prepared, keep working hard. Things might not work out for you right now but you never know.

“Any given play in football, anything can happen and — boom — you could be in there.”

It wasn’t that long ago that Henry and Garrard were playing together in a high school all-star game, the East-West game in Greensboro in the summer of 1997. Ironically, another future ECU teammate, Ty Hunt, stripped Garrard of the ball to stop a late East drive and preserve a West win.

But Henry is in a different all-star setting this week. He had his scholarship to ECU when he played in the East-West game five years ago. The difference now is that nothing is guaranteed for him professionally and he’s in the position of proving himself to the pro scouts.

What will his frame of mind be?

“Business,” he said. “I mean I’m not out there to make truly friends with anybody because everybody right now is fighting for position. Everybody is jockeying for that position. I’m really going out there — it’s a business trip. It’s football. I’m going out there to work on the things that God has given me, which is the ability to play football. I just want to make sure that when my chances are there — and which, right now, my chance is there — to be playing in an all-star game is real big.

“Think about all the college kids that come out. A lot of them get a chance to maybe go to the combine but don’t get a chance to go to any all-star games. So this is big. I’m just going out there with a focused mind as if I’m approaching an East Carolina game or a high school game or any game. I’m going out there for business and business only because I don’t have time to sit back and relax and worry about all the outside distractions — the nice weather and the nice atmosphere.

“That stuff is there. That’s there every day. But this chance and this opportunity that’s upon me right now is not there everyday.”

Silver Hat...

ECU coach Steve Logan was dining out with some recruits when he saw a portion of the Senior Bowl with Garrard quarterbacking the North team. The helmet Garrard wore was silver with a purple ECU decal.

“I saw that,” Logan said.

How did he like it?

“I thought it looked pretty good,” said the Pirates coach. “I like our white road uniforms to tell the truth. I’ve never been a big fan of that deep purple but our people don’t want to hear me say that.”

We weren’t getting a fashion preview for 2002?

“No.”

But Logan has toyed with the idea of wearing white jerseys at home, a la LSU.

Another Date...

The dates of ECU’s non-conference road games for 2002 have been determined by looking at the opponents’ schedules. The Pirates will open at Duke on Aug. 31 and play at Wake Forest the following Saturday, Sept. 7. ECU will play at West Virginia on Sept. 28.

Playing the Mountaineers before the weather gets severely cold is an advantage in my opinion. The Pirates fell behind early in a 42-24 loss in Morgantown on Nov. 18, 2000, as snow flurries fell before the game and the wind chill was brutal.

Logan said before the Tulane game last season that he regretted not taking the team to West Virginia early to get them acclimated to the synthetic turf with a workout on Friday before the game.

A less-talented ECU team played the Mountaineers a closer game in 1997, losing the Sept. 6 season opener 24-17 despite relying almost completely that year offensively on the passing of Dan Gonzalez.

The warmer the weather at West Virginia, the less severe the home field advantage.

Send an e-mail message to Al Myatt.

Click here to dig into Al Myatt's Bonesville archives.

02/23/2007 12:58:27 AM
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