Tough road to success: Anthony Henry

This is one of several player profiles we will be featuring here at Blogging the Boys.

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Anthony Henry grew up in Fort Myers, a small town in southwest Florida on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. A paradise for baseball fans and a vacation spot for others, Fort Myers also had its dark side. Anthony lived in the tough neighborhood of Michigan Link Court, a government owned housing project. He cherished his walks with his mother as she went to work; this was a way to spend precious time with someone who worked multiple jobs in an effort to support her large family. She talked to him about life and about her experiences but most importantly she taught him about God and how He would always lead him in the right direction. Growing up in the projects with ten siblings Anthony struggled like many to escape the turmoil of life in the neighborhood. His father was non-existent and he found himself facing hardships alone. The walks with his mother helped, but too often she was a ghostly figure in his life. Anthony found a way to keep himself on the straight and narrow by relying on his faith and his growing athletic prowess. Many kids fell victim to the sins around them but Anthony took the high road.

"I still hung out with friends who did bad things. It’s not to say there weren’t some things I didn’t do, but God protected me. I guess I just never took an interest in doing drugs or selling drugs. Seeing what it did to some of my friends stuck out in my mind."

He was a standout player at Estero High School in three sports, lettering in football as a free safety, cornerback, quarterback and punter. He was team MVP in basketball and the District Most Valuable Player in track, setting several school records. His athletic ability barely carried him out of high school, however. Poor test grades scared away the big name schools and as a Proposition 48 student he had to forfeit his eligibility in 1996. In 1997, Anthony was recruited into the brand new football program at the University of South Florida.

After playing his first three years at safety, Anthony made the switch to cornerback his senior year. His position coach at USF was former Eagles safety Andre Waters and the two formed a close bond. His senior year he set the team record with five interceptions while also playing as a free safety and receiver. While in college, he continued to grow spiritually and was able to keep looking forward and not dwell on the hard times of his past. He was the only one of his siblings to graduate high school and with one year of eligibility left, he became the only one with a college degree as well.

In the fourth round of the 2001 NFL draft, Anthony was selected by the Cleveland Browns. He stormed into the league with a bang, leading the AFC with ten interceptions his rookie year. Named defensive Player of the Week in November, he recorded three interceptions in a game twice and set a club record with a 97 yard interception return for a touchdown. Anthony saw less action his second year, standing out mostly as a special teams player. His third season Anthony emerged as the full time starter at right corner and helped lead a pass defense that ranked fifth in the AFC. This success carried over into the 2004 season as the Browns defense ranked fifth overall in the NFL against the pass. Anthony finished the year with four interceptions and set his sights on free agency.

The Dallas Cowboys quickly signed Anthony Henry in the opening hours of free agency in 2005. Teamed with Terence Newman and Aaron Glenn, Dallas was hopeful that he would help form one of the top defensive backfields in the league. Anthony was excited at the prospect of playing for America’s Team.

"Compared to Cleveland, there is a different atmosphere in Dallas. My teammates are great just like they were in Cleveland. But a number of guys dream of playing for the Cowboys. Being part of the tradition is great."

 Anthony lived up to the challenge and played at a pro bowl level the first eight games until a severe groin injury sidelined him the rest of the season. He was hampered again in 2006 with a nagging knee injury. He was able to play through it for most of the season and lead the team with a staggering 23 passes defensed. The Cowboys had high hopes for 2007 and after Aaron Glenn was cut before the start of the season, the pressure was on Anthony to perform. He exploded out of the gates and led the league in interceptions through four games. A dreaded high ankle sprain against St. Louis would hobble him the rest of the year and Dallas was never able to start both of its top corners until the end of the year.

At 6’ 1", 208 lbs Anthony can be a physically imposing cornerback; his size allows the Cowboys to match him up against the leagues biggest receivers. He is one of the hardest hitting and surest tackling corners in the league and has shown over the years a knack for getting his hands on the ball. Playing opposite Terence Newman he sees a majority of the passes come in his direction and although he can be beat he also has the ability to make the play. His reputation has taken a bit of hit over the years as he has struggled with injuries and the pressure of playing with one of the league’s top shut down cornerbacks. Unfortunately his size hampers his quickness and he is prone to give up the big play. Yet he is a modest and quiet guy and always thinks of the team above himself. When thrust into the number one corner spot early in the 2007 season, Anthony shined and made play after play while maintaining a sense of humility about him. If he can stay healthy and play at the level he did in the beginning of this past season then the Cowboys will be much more at ease with playing a rookie cornerback; a certainty with the departure of Jacques Reeves and lack of talent left in free agency.

The Cowboys will once again be looking to the Super Bowl in 2008 and Anthony will be a major piece of that plan. Yet he has stayed humble and down to earth, always giving back to the community he came from. Anthony is frequently involved in the Florida Fellowship of Christian Athletes, starting the Anthony Henry Foundation. His foundation has helped raise money for FCA scholarships the past two years. He was a steady contributor to the Make-A-Wish foundation in Cleveland and in Dallas joined other teammates in support of a benefit for the North Texas Food Bank. His highest honor, however, was having his high school jersey retired in 2004. He was able to stand in front of kids that were just like him, facing adversity and hardship from the moment they are born and tell them there is a way out. Anthony relied on his faith and hard work to get him to where he is now and he is a shining example of someone who overcame overwhelming obstacles to realize his dreams.

Sources used for this story:
sharingthevictory.com
naplesnews.com
nflplayers.com
dallascowboys.com

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