Izaiah Henderson grew up in Brooklyn, New York, and originally went to Boston College to play football.
All he has known is city life — until now.
Henderson is now in Orono manning the trenches as a defensive tackle for the University of Maine’s football team, where he is the squad’s second-leading tackler through three games, with 17.
After last season, the Boston College coaching staff informed him there wouldn’t be a roster spot for him any more, so he entered the NCAA transfer portal.
Henderson readily admits moving on to a rural setting was a “big reason” for his decision to transfer to UMaine.
“I’ve been in the city my entire life. I love nature and the great state of Maine has a lot of that,” Henderson said.
He likes the fact there are “no distractions” compared with life in Brooklyn and the suburbs of Boston.
So, as Henderson puts it, it’s now just him, school and football.
Henderson’s decision to come to UMaine was also influenced by his close friendship with former Boston College teammate Aaron Gethers, who is a cornerback at UMaine, and his relationship with former Boston College graduate assistant Umberto Di Meo, who is in his first season as the defensive line coach at UMaine.
“There was nowhere else I really wanted to go,” said Henderson, who has two years of eligibility at UMaine.
The 6-foot-3, 270-pound Henderson had an immediate spark in his first game as a Black Bear.
In the 14-12 loss at Florida International University, he was tied for second on the team in tackles with five, including a team-high two tackles for lost yards, one of which was a sack. He also forced a fumble.
“I think he only had 15 snaps at FIU and he was in on five tackles and a sack. His production has been outstanding,” said UMaine head coach Jordan Stevens.
Henderson’s playing time has increased and he has continued to produce.
He had five tackles in the 44-7 loss at North Dakota State and a career-high seven tackles, including two for loss, in the 34-17 loss to Rhode Island.
“He played a lot at BC. He has played a lot of football,” Stevens said. “He’s athletic, he’s bendy, he’s twitchy. He can run, he can change directions.”
Henderson played in 25 games at Boston College and made 24 tackles.
Last fall, he was involved in 13 tackles in 10 games and forced a fumble for the Football Bowl Subdivision Eagles.
Henderson had been a tight end through his sophomore year at Mater Dei High School in New Jersey.
“The offensive coordinator told me to make a business decision with my body and moved into playing on the offensive line and in the three-tech,” Henderson said. “The rest is history.”
Three-tech refers to defensive tackle or playing on the outside shoulder of the opponents’ offensive guard.
He was ranked the No. 2 high school defensive tackle in New Jersey and was his conference’s Defensive Player of the Year.
He has gone from playing in the Atlantic Coast Conference to the Football Championship Subdivision’s Coastal Athletic Association.
“Football is football, no matter where you go,” Henderson said. “I’m just trying to get better every day. I’m always working on my technique.”
“He probably works harder than any defensive lineman on our team right now,” Di Meo said. “So when you see him make plays in the game, you understand why it translates into the things he does on the field. He is playing hard and playing fast.”
The 0-3 Black Bears will travel to Lynchburg, Virginia, to take on No. 5 William and Mary, 3-0, on Saturday at 3:30 p.m.
Henderson isn’t dwelling on the team’s first three games.
“We can’t really look back. We can look back at the mistakes we made and fix those. We’re taking it one week at a time right now,” Henderson said. “We’re going to keep strapping up our helmets, putting on our pads and go out there and play to the best of our abilities.”
Di Meo said Henderson is in a good place right now.
“There are a lot more things to do and things to see in Boston and Brooklyn,” Di Meo said. “He is enjoying the different pace of life here.”