It is not common for a punter to be one of the best-known players on a football team – unless they make a colossal mistake that costs his squad a game or title. That was not the case for the Florida Gators in 2010 as Chas Henry stood out as a saving grace during the season, saving stalled offensive drives from disaster and (later in the year) doing his part as a kicker to score some points in dire situations.
The 2010 Ray Guy Award winner and one of the team’s most valuable players last season, Henry was not selected in the 2011 NFL Draft but was quite popular as an undrafted free agent when the lockout was lifted. Now a member of the Philadelphia Eagles, Henry sat down with OGGOA to discuss his new surroundings and look back on an interesting senior year in the Orange & Blue.
ADAM SILVERSTEIN: Let’s start off by talking about what has been going on with you recently the lockout is finally lifted and teams start calling – how did that go down and what was that situation like for you?
CHAS HENRY: “It happened all of a sudden. I was actually at my girlfriend’s house with her just sitting watching TV and all of a sudden I started getting all of these phone calls. I knew that free agency was supposed to start up at 10 a.m. the following morning, so I was just trying to figure out my plans for the week before I had to report off to camp. I’m sitting on the couch and all of a sudden my phone starts blowing up with the different area codes and everything, so I’m thinking, ‘Something must be going on.’
“First call I got was at 7:04 p.m. from a Houston Texans coach. A few minutes after that I got another call from another team, and a few minutes after that… Within about two hours I had about five different teams contact me. […] We started narrowing down choices, and I spoke to Coach [Andy] Reid and the general manager up here Howie Roseman – a Florida guy, a great Florida guy up here in Philadelphia. I spoke with them and just really liked everything that they had to offer. I was very excited about the possibility of coming up here to play. There’s a couple Florida guys up here with [Cornelius Ingram] and Riley Cooper, and they just told me how much of a great time they’ve had up here and how they really enjoy the coaching staff and players and everything. I felt like it was the best opportunity for me to come in and be a part of.”
AS: I spoke with Duke Lemmens about how the process was for him and he compared it to a mini version of recruiting. Is that how it went for you?
CH: “Exactly. This is the first time I’ve ever been recruited and I’ve had to make a decision like this. When I was recruited to Florida, Coach [Urban] Meyer recruited me and he offered me and I committed right there on the spot. I figured there was no other better place I could go than the University of Florida. I couldn’t pick a better school than the University of Florida. That was the best opportunity I could have ever imagined putting myself into. I told the coaches this time, ‘This is the first time I’ve ever been recruited, so you have to bear with me a little bit.’”
Read the rest of our exclusive interview with Chas Henry…after the break!
AS: Philadelphia had an accomplished punter in Sav Rocca who was tendered and could have accepted but ultimately chose to go elsewhere during free agency. How much did that play into your decision?
CH: “You almost kind of have to take a gamble on it. I was confident in my ability and what I could come into and compete against whoever it had to be. I figured they would have to bring somebody into camp anyway regardless of the situation.
“I wanted to go to a situation where I would actually be comfortable with the situation. My agent actually represents the long snapper that’s here, so I’ve heard about him before the possibility of even playing up here [presented itself]. We talked about Jon Dorenbos and how great of a guy he is and everything. And then Alex Henery, the kicker for Nebraska, I’ve worked with him at the Senior Bowl and the Combine. We got to talk and I’ve had his number and we were texting before this all played out. I thought this would be a great situation where I could come into with a kicker being roughly in the same area I am as a rookie and we could kind of lean off of our experiences together and go through this whole process together. It’s very comfortable.”
“That was one of the things that Coach Reid told me whenever he was talking to me on the phone. He said, ‘This is a very young team. It is a very veteran team, but the veterans are within four years – there’s a lot of really good players here.’ That kind of makes you think, whenever you’re a young player or a rookie coming into this situation, you’re going to be away from everything [you know]. It’s a lot different from college as far as going away – [Gainesville being] six hours away from my hometown outside of Atlanta [was] not too bad of a drive. Now I’m up here in Philadelphia, I’m going to be on my own and everything.”
AS: You signed your free agent contract with Philadelphia before it became fashionable to do so. What has it been like over the last few weeks seeing all of these star players you used to watch signing with the team as free agents? Is there a feeling in the locker room like something special is happening?
CH: “It’s just like icing on the cake. You hear about all of these players who are going to be free agents. Nnamdi [Asomugha] wasn’t even put out there as far as going to Philadelphia. Everyone is paying attention wondering where he [and all of the free agents] are going to go. I remember we were in the car after lunch, and I went online and saw where Nnamdi had committed to play here and signed with Philadelphia. I told Jon the long snapper and he goes, ‘What?!’ We got back to the locker room and there was a buzz in the air. And from there it just kind of was a snowball affect with Cullen Jenkins coming here and Ronnie Brown. It’s really the Michael Vick effect. Michael Vick is one of the nicest guys that I’ve gotten a chance to talk to – a really nice guy, a great teammate and great team player. He kind of has that effect on everybody where everybody wants to come play with him. He’s just such a great guy and a tremendous athlete.”
AS: Some punters are drafted in the later rounds but most end up going undrafted by the time the process is over. What were your expectations during the draft and what were you told by coaches and teams going into it?
CH: “I was told by every special teams coach who worked me out that I was definitely a draftable punter and I was going to be drafted somewhere. They were all kind of wishing me the best of luck. The way it turned out, I didn’t get drafted. It is definitely disappointing because as a college player it is kind of your dream to get drafted and play in the NFL and have a team have that show of confidence in you to bring you on to their team and be drafted. It didn’t turn out that way, but I was fine with it.
“As it got later in the rounds – late in the sixth and seventh rounds – it’s definitely not what you envision happening but it may turn out to be OK because I get to choose where I want to go and the best situation [for me] rather than be forced into a situation. I got a few calls from coaches and stuff saying they just didn’t have the picks to take me. I heard the same story from a couple different coaches, who said they could not talk to me during the lockout but after it was over they would get in contact with me.”
AS: Your accomplishments with the Gators are obvious but most of the focus on you during the season in 2010 was on your field goal kicking rather than your punting. How rewarding was it for you to win the Ray Guy Award last year after not capturing it the year before? What was it like getting that recognition at the end of your college career?
CH: “It’s definitely a special award. As a punter, that’s the Heisman of punting – it’s the highest award you can win as a punter. I felt very, very fortunate, and I owe Coach Meyer. A lot of this is the players he put on that punt team. If you punt the ball a 50-yard average but you have a 30-yard return each time and get a 20-yard net, that’s not a great punter. I was fortunate to have some great players on special teams, and he took a lot of pride in making sure the players who were on the punt team were the best athletes out there on the field. We had an advantage in that department, so all I did was try to go out there and just do the best that I could to put those guys in the best situation to make the play. We had some great athletes out there and a lot of support, but it was good to get out there and win that award really for that punt team and for the coaches and everything.”
AS: While you were the standout performer in 2010, the team as a whole certainly suffered a down season. What did you see as the overriding issue in the team’s inability to put all of the pieces together last year?
CH: “I kind of look back on that and think about what went wrong. It was definitely a disappointing season. Anyone will tell you that [if] they’re being truthful. It was disappointing and a hard season to go through because our expectations were to play in the SEC Championship and we had a chance for that. We don’t like losing; we hate losing. Those are the expectations that every Florida player, coach and fan should have. We make sure we put ourselves in that position.
“We were a very young team last year and we lost a lot of players from the 2006 and 2005 recruiting classes that had won a lot of games. There really wasn’t a great deal of playing experience – and there were some new coaches and players who came in, freshmen trying to make their impression. It didn’t mold as well as we would’ve liked. We still were in every single game we played except probably Florida State and Alabama – and those were two very good teams. Even LSU, we were there until the very, very last second. It’s the SEC. You’re not going to be 13-1 every single year over the course of 10 years. There are highs and lows, and you have to weigh that and go through it. We were very fortunate for the years we had that were great winning seasons.”
AS: And you still beat Georgia…
CH: “Plus beating Georgia – that always helps. Georgia and Tennessee: I was 4-0 against Tennessee and 3-1 against Georgia.”
AS: That is certainly a feather in your cap…
CH: “I got a message from Jeremy Foley. He sat and talked to me after the Mississippi State game. The kicking was a high and low; I went through a roller coaster ride this past year. After the Mississippi State game, I was just crushed by it. He talked to me and told me to keep my head up. He called it perfectly; he couldn’t have called it any better. He predicted the whole thing. We had a bye week and then the next week we played Georgia. He said, ‘The next game you play, you’re going to come up and you’re going to have a game-winning field goal and you’re going to drill it.’ He called it and it was perfect. He left me a nice, long voicemail afterward. I really appreciate that about him. He’s not just an athletic director in front of cameras, he’s really involved with everything and is one of the greatest individuals I’ve ever met.”
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Photo Credit: Stephen Morton/Associated Press