Search Shop
Nov 11, 2022

K.J. Henry | More Than Football

By: Gracie Sansbury

Note: The following appears in the Louisville football gameday program.

Growth. That has been the continuous goal for Winston-Salem, N.C. native K.J. Henry. The fifth-year defensive end was a top-rated player by ESPN coming out of high school and had offers to attend countless other schools.

“When it came down to it, I really loved how they developed us on and off the field,” explained Henry. “I thought P.A.W. Journey was a great program, and it was a huge attraction to me.

“How could I not play for Clemson? Clemson had great coaches, a great program and loves to win.”

Five years later, Henry remains confident in the decision he made long ago, stating that every moment playing for Clemson has been amazing.

“I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”

While his father was an assistant coach at Wake Forest, it was mostly self-motivation that led him to the sport.

“For so many years, I was pushing myself to play, and I didn’t know why. I didn’t even learn to love and enjoy the game until I got here.”

Throughout high school, Henry actually wanted to be a basketball star.

“I wanted to pursue basketball as my sport, but ironically, I wasn’t tall enough,” laughed the 6’4” Henry. “From not being able to really go further with basketball, I had to learn to love football in order to be a college athlete. I truly do love it now and I’m glad basketball didn’t take me. Everything worked out.”

Interestingly enough, basketball is a reason why #5 loves his current position.

“Defensive end is so natural to me and it’s the closest spot to being a basketball player again…like the best of both worlds. Being able to make moves to get around the offense has the same feel as making plays on the basketball court. There is no better feeling than making a tackle or sack.”

Outside of the many practices at Allen N. Reeves Football Complex, Henry is a P.A.W. Journey ambassador.

“Being a part of the P.A.W. Journey program has been an amazing experience, and I have learned and grown so much through it.”

The leadership and development initiative was one of the reasons for bringing Henry to the Upstate, and it is now one of the reasons he has continued to stay, as the three-time ACC Academic Honor Roll member is one of only a few players in Tiger history to play with two degrees already in hand. He earned his degree in sports communication in only three years in December 2020, then received his master’s degree in athletic leadership in December 2021.

However, coming back and using his fifth year involved more than just P.A.W. Journey or being with the team. He ultimately believed the team and himself had unfinished business left on the gridiron.

“We left a lot on the table as a team last year. I was talking with the guys and other seniors about how much talent we had coming back and how we could turn things around for this season. After the way we have played so far, we have shown that we definitely have something to prove coming off of last year.”

Using his extra year was also about taking advantage of his healthy state.

“Another part of it was really about me and never being able to play 100-percent healthy. I didn’t want to take the next step in my life and the next stage in football without knowing that I gave everything at the college level.”

When talking about his motivation and what has gotten him through five straight years playing for the Tigers, Henry said he wants to continue to grow.

“I want to take and learn everything that Coach (Lemanski) Hall and the other coaches have taught me, and I want to better myself in every aspect.”

The defensive star’s motivation is simple…the desire to play hard.

“After you’ve been here for a couple years, you really know the game and have played teams three or four times, and you know how they play. That is a knowledge that takes years to acquire, and I did not want to let it go to waste.”

Surprisingly, the toughest adversity Henry has faced has not been injuries, but rather the competitiveness in the defensive end room.

“Having such a talented room, which it has been such a blessing looking back, was very difficult, as there has always been so much depth with the defensive ends. Having to contest with many other competitive and gifted guys has really been my biggest hardship. It forced me to find ways to help this team and work hard at it.

“It has truly turned into the biggest blessing. Knowing that I have the opportunity to play with those guys every day has made me a much better player. My toughest moments have been fighting for spots on Saturdays, but they have been worth them every single time.”

Henry’s favorite memory playing for Clemson is “by far” his recovered fumble to close the game against Boston College last year.

“That was a really good game, and once I solidified the win, my teammates and I were celebrating after having a challenging season. It will be a moment I will remember forever.”

The Tiger leader has said how much Clemson has affected him and the growth and development he has experienced playing for the Tigers, and he continues to be a face of this team, both on and off the field.