Kevin Henry did not directly replace Eric Fisher in the Central Michigan University football lineup. The two play on opposite sides of the offensive line.
Yet Henry was very much a part of CMU’s quest to overcome the loss of Fisher, who the Kansas City Chiefs took No. 1 overall in the 2013 NFL Draft. With Fisher gone, Henry went from a player that started once as a sophomore in 2012 to the starting right tackle in every game this fall.
The Chippewas scored 23.2 points a game, averaging 132.8 rushing yards and 208.3 passing yards. They ranked ninth in the Mid-American Conference in total offense and seventh in scoring offense. Not only were they without Fisher, they also lost Darren Keyton, who started 13 games at right guard in 2012.
“Always, when I was behind those guys, I would think that my time would come if I would keep working hard, and I was given the opportunity,” Henry said. “I thought I played pretty well, for the most part. I made a few mistakes here and there, but overall it was a really good season for me. We were able to get to six wins and played pretty well for most of the year. It was a good experience.”
Mike Cummings has been the offensive coordinator and offensive line coach at CMU since 2010, one year before Henry arrived as a defensive lineman out of Morris Community High School. Henry’s attitude when he was first moved from defense to offense helped sell Cummings that he could one day become a first-stringer.
“We were down a couple offensive linemen when he arrived. We were kind of gutted on the offensive line,” Cummings said. “I went to Kevin and said, ‘Would you mind moving?’ I can still remember him shaking his head and saying, ‘Sure,’ without a moment’s hesitation. Anybody that unselfish, that stays selfless and keeps it about the team, they can play anywhere.”
As a true freshman, Henry started the final four games of the 2011 season at right tackle as the Chippewas concluded a 3-9 season. He got just one start but played in 12 games in 2012 as the Chippewas went 6-6 during the regular season. They were selected for, and won, the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, where they faced Western Kentucky and prevailed 24-21.
Although the Chippewas replicated that 6-6 mark during the 2013 regular season, they were not selected for a bowl. They won their last three games, including their finale over rival Eastern Michigan, to become bowl eligible. That run, coupled with Henry’s experience at the prior year’s bowl, made the snub tough for him to accept.
“The whole experience was awesome, getting to play one more game. It was just a couple of hours from here, up in Detroit. Having a lot of fans there definitely made it a great atmosphere for us,” Henry said of the 2012 Little Caesars Pizza Bowl.
“I was hoping [after the 2013 Eastern Michigan game], crossing my fingers and everything. You never know what’s going to happen. ... I haven’t had much time to think about [not being selected]. When I come home over break and have to sit there and watch all the bowl games and other teams play, I think it’ll kinda sink in.”
So Henry is already thinking about and preparing for his final season as a Chippewa. He admits that, after watching Fisher and Keyton get opportunities in the NFL (Keyton signed as an undrafted free agent with, and was cut by, the Detroit Lions), he is hopeful of playing professionally. Joe Staley, the San Francisco 49ers’ left tackle and a two-time All-Pro, is another CMU alum.
“Obviously, you play at this level to have the chance to potentially realize your childhood dream of playing in the NFL,” Henry said. “That can’t be everything for you. You have to have a backup plan. I’ve got one more season left, and I’ll see where that’ll take me.”
Another MCHS grad, Jeff Perry, was a redshirt freshman for the Chippewas this season.