BOCA RATON – Charlie Partridge recognizes in Trey Hendrickson a characteristic he saw in another talented defensive end he once coached: J. J. Watt.
“In their drive to always get better and to affect others around them with work ethic, that’s where I see a big comparison,” Partridge said. “J.J. always worked hard and I see that trait in Trey.”
As the defensive line coach at Wisconsin, Partridge served as Watt’s position coach. In the five seasons since being drafted by the Houston Texans, Watt’s earned four All-Pro honors, sacked a quarterback 74 ½ times and been named the 2012 AP Defensive MVP.
Hendrickson has a ways to go before achieving similar accomplishments, but the 13 1/2 sacks he recorded last season – second most in the nation – raised Hendrickson’s perceived ceiling a few stories.
Given the option, Hendrickson would like to treat those sacks as currency.
“I’d give up all my sacks for a bowl ring,” he said. “If I get two blockers and [fellow FAU defensive end] Hunter Snyder comes open and, third down, they’re off the field, that’s a win for us.”
Hendrickson’s wallet is nearly overflowing with sack currency.
The 20 sacks he recorded during his first three seasons are the most by anyone ever to don an Owls’ uniform. Those 13.5 sacks last year shattered the FAU single-season mark.
Another year like that and Hendrickson will be one of the first defensive ends selected in the 2017 NFL Draft, joining Watt as an early-round pick. For the next few months, however, the 6-foot-4, 270-pound defensive end cares more about what happens in Boca Raton.
“I want it to be all about this team and this program,” Hendrickson said. “I want to lave a legacy here that’s going to live longer than my playing career. I have bigger things in mind than just the next level. I want to leave an impact and a footprint on this program.”
Truth be told, he already has.
“He makes those better around him just by how hard he works,” Partridge said. “People can’t help but try and match his intensity in how he approaches every drill and every conditioning session and every workout.”
Hendrickson played for FAU as wiry true freshman, so his talent was never in question.
He’s added about 60 pounds to his 6-foot-4 frame since arriving at FAU, but Hendrickson’s biggest growth has occurred off the field. The emotional outbursts that made him a walking raw nerve don’t erupt anywhere near as frequently as they did during his first years in Boca Raton.
“Football is an emotional game and you need to be able to play with emotion – especially at certain positions, D-line being one of them,” Partridge said. “But you have to have control and he thankfully has really worked hard and has gotten control of that emotion. Hopefully he stays on that path. All indicators are that he is going to.”
Hendrickson sports a more jovial disposition now, going so far as to refer to the person he was a few years ago as a “knucklehead.” He’ll openly and thoughtfully answer most questions about the upcoming season, but is reluctant to share his senior season sack goal publicly. He’s equally wary of confessing last year’s goal, though he did concede he eclipsed that target.
“I didn’t set it for 13-and-a-half last year, so there’s nobody that can tell what it’s going to be,” he said. “I was shooting for more than five.”
Hendrickson may also have to set an offensive goal, too. Prior to the start of camp Partridge indicated an intention to experiment with Hendrickson on offense in short yardage and goal line situations.
A tight end as well as a defensive end in high school, Hendrickson has the hands to catch short passes along with the strength and tenacity to be a menacing lead blocker.
“I wouldn’t mind,” said Hendrickson, a devilish grin creeping across his face. “It’s interesting. It’s laying the wood, blocking somebody and opening the gap. I’d love to do that.”
During the summer Conference USA coaches chose Hendrickson as the conference’s Preseason Defensive Player of the Year and his name has landed on multiple watch lists for national awards.
The mention of national publicity prompts a smile and a shrug from Hendrickson, who classifies the attention as something “just for my dad to be proud of.”
Awards are presented at the end of the season. There will be time for those discussions, and if his performance warrants, the accolades will come. Three weeks prior to the opening kickoff of FAU’s season, Hendrickson is working to build upon a defensive line culture started by a couple other NFL players – former Owls Brandin Bryant and Trevon Coley.
“He really is becoming someone who has pride in Florida Atlantic and that’s been a big part of our growth pattern here is that the whole locker room has pride.” Partridge said. “When your best player, or one of your best players, lives in that world then that certainly helps your cause.”