BOCA RATON – If opposing quarterbacks begin covering their uniforms in spinach, kale or romaine, consider them prudent.
It means they’ve discovered FAU defensive end Trey Hendrickson’s weakness.
Popeye the Sailor he is not.
Feeling slow and overweight during the spring, Hendrickson immediately dropped high carbohydrate foods like pizza from his diet in favor of lean protein.
Like a kid hiding lima beans under his mashed potatoes, though, Hendrickson still struggles with his vegetables. He prefers to drink them in a blended smoothie.
“It’s not my style to sit there and eat a bunch of leaves,” said Hendrickson.
Sacks are Hendrickson’s style – and the meat in his statistical sandwich are once again in fashion at FAU.
At least one sack in each of the last five games, and 7.5 overall during that stretch, boosted Hendrickson’s season total to nine, which leads the Owls and is second in Conference USA. Had it not been for last year’s 13.5-sack performance, second best in the NCAA, it would be the most prolific single season sack total in FAU history.
“He’s still finding a way to have those impact plays as well as drawing blockers away from other guys,” FAU coach Charlie Partridge said.
Both Partridge and defensive coordinator Roc Bellantoni say Hendrickson, who still weighs close to the 270 pounds he weighed in the spring but now does so carrying more muscle, is a significantly better player than he was last season.
“It’s not even close,” Bellantoni said.
Hendrickson set the FAU program sack record last season in large part because Brandin Bryant (currently a New York Jet), Trevon Coley (a participant in Baltimore Ravens’ camp) and Ray Ellis (a starting FAU defensive tackle injured before the season) created a push in the middle of the defensive line.
Without those three, Hendrickson faced double and triple teams throughout the season as current defensive tackles Stephen Leggett, Josh Kendall and Shalom Ogbonda grew into their new responsibilities.
“It was tough mentally for a little while, but as the captain I felt like I needed to push through that and I did,” said Hendrickson, the program’s career leader in a host of meaningful statistical categories. “I didn’t show frustration or emotion. I was more proud of the team when we did get a sack and now it’s (happening) more frequently. I’m excited for the next two games. I think we can get after these guys.”
One of those sacks that made Hendrickson’s chest swell came in the game that ended FAU’s losing streak.
As the season progressed the Owls began moving Hendrickson to different places along the defensive line hoping to catch opposing offensive lines off guard.
That worked against Rice.
“They didn’t like that too much,” said Hendrickson, recalling a play in the opening minutes of the second quarter. “They said some word, they checked something. That was the one I went inside and I think Josh Kendall wrapped around for the sack. It kind of threw their whole mojo off. Guys were on me and he was open.”
The victory at Rice launched the Owls on their modest, but much needed, two-game winning streak.
One of the most open Owls when it comes to sharing thoughtful opinions, Hendrickson now speaks freely about the frustrations he felt in the midst of FAU’s seven-game losing streak.
“Playing Miami [in the season’s second game] we expected to win, obviously,” Hendrickson said. “When we didn’t, it looked like a little bit of the immaturity set it. But we responded well. We fought hard. It didn’t go our way through the season, but to lose seven games and come back and win two in a row, I don’t think a lot of teams could do that.”
Hendrickson made those comments on Wednesday – the day of the week when FAU only makes offensive players available to the media. Even at 6-foot-4, he fits through a loophole.
During the second half of the season the Owls employed Hendrickson as a fullback in goal line and short yardage situations. He helped open the hole on Saturday against UTEP that allowed Buddy Howell to tie Alfred Morris’ FAU single-season rushing touchdown mark.
Hendrickson hasn’t found the end zone either as a defensive end or a fullback during his career – a glory that at one point during his career was a priority.
“Honestly it means more to me to get wins,” Hendrickson said. “If I can block for Buddy to break Alfred Morris’ record, I feel like I get just as much joy out of that as if I was punching it in.”
Hendrickson will put on the FAU uniform for the final time in front of a home crowd on Saturday when Old Dominion (7-3, 5-1) comes to Howard Schnellenberger Field.
Prior to the game, in accordance with tradition, he and all the seniors will be honored with their families on the field.
Following the kickoff, Hendrickson will pursue career sack No. 30.
“I don’t really know how it’s going to be until I’m out there,” Hendrickson said. “Right now I don’t feel like I have any regrets. I don’t think I’ve let anyone down. I think I’ve made my family proud. It’s been a hell of a journey and I’m excited for what the future holds.”