Athleticism, grit has helped Hendricks pick up Bison defense at fast clip
FARGO — The total yards James Hendricks produced as a quarterback in high school added up to almost 3½ miles, which is a long way if you’re trying to sprint a 5K much less grind it out on a 100-yard football field.
It made him a Division I prospect — on offense — and that’s where he spent his first two falls at North Dakota State. But it didn’t take long to figure out he was destined to be the No. 3 quarterback on the depth chart, at best, and the prospects of reaching the starting lineup would probably have to wait until 2019 — the year after Easton Stick graduates.
So he moved to defense, where he hardly played in high school in Bemidji, Minn.
“Probably not as much as we wanted him to,” said Troy Hendricks, his father and head coach at Bemidji.
On a successful prep team, James Hendricks played defensive back a little bit in the Minnesota high school playoffs, and that was about it. His high school resume was impressive, although the numbers of note were on the offensive end passing for 3,735 yards and 36 touchdowns, and running for another 2,273 yards and 25 touchdowns. The total yards add up to 6,008 yards.
When James Hendricks made the decision to abandon quarterback after last season, after a consultation with the Bison coaches, Troy Hendricks also wondered how it would go.
“Good question, he is an extremely athletic kid no matter what sport he played,” he said. “There was never a shortage of athleticism and he’s very intelligent about the game of football. But I’m a little surprised how quickly he has matured into the position, but at the same time not surprised. I know my son very well and I know he’s capable athletically and more important capable to mentally handle what’s thrown at him.”
What was thrown at him was a multitude of details like the techniques of positioning and changing direction. Learning NDSU’s Tampa 2 defense is no easy matter but the biggest question mark was one of the basic concepts of defense: tackling.
Heading into the season opener at Eastern Washington, nobody really knew if he could do it.
“That was something I stressed out about for a bit because I didn’t do it much in spring football or fall camp,” Hendricks said. “That first game was huge to get a couple of tackles in and show that I could do it.”
Live tackling in practice is less prevalent in this day and age of football than it ever has been because of injury protection.
“And that’s a technique thing too as far as running your feet through contact, knowing where to place your head and knowing how to wrap,” said NDSU defensive backs coach Joe Klanderman. “Those are things that don’t come naturally and he works on those things harder than anybody we have in the group.”
Hendricks is listed as the backup at strong safety, but he’s been on the field a lot. He’s tied for the team lead in interceptions with Robbie Grimsley with three each and is fifth on the team in tackles with 12.
Being a former quarterback has helped, Hendricks said. It helped in making the transition to defense and it helps now in being able to read an offense.
“A ballplayer is a ballplayer,” Klanderman said. “I mean a guy that just gets the game from a quarterback perspective. Obviously there are some different movement skills and a different eye thing but as far as being a gritty football player, he’s had that from the beginning way before he got to me. … We would not be afraid to use him in a 34-34 overtime game. And that’s something he has earned.”