More than a game: For FPC's Verneal Henshaw, sports are a family legacy
Like a mountain next to a hill, Verneal Henshaw towers above his opponent.
Before the start of the drill, the 6-foot-4, 264-pound left tackle sits in his stance, eagerly waiting for the play to begin. When the ball is finally snapped, Henshaw — with surprising quickness for such a large individual — explodes into the opposing defender like a bullet ripping out of the barrel of a gun.
It’s a common scenario for the 16-year-old.
“I’ve always been like that,” said Henshaw, a junior at Flagler Palm Coast High School as well as a starting offensive lineman for the Bulldogs. “I just love to hit.”
It’s this aggression that defines him as a football player. It’s what drives him not only to dominate the players in front of him, but to prove to himself, to his family, to interested colleges and to those watching that he’s got what it takes.
“I approach the game with a chip on my shoulder,” Henshaw said. “I always wanna prove to people what I can do and play as hard as I can.”
Henshaw was always a physical athlete.
Even playing basketball as a 10-year-old growing up in Columbus, Ohio, Henshaw expressed his love for competition in the only way he knew how — through aggression.
“He was just running around tackling people,” his father, Verneal Sr., said. “He wasn’t even playing basketball. He was just trying to get the ball and tackle people.”
Verneal Sr., a former basketball and football player at Norfolk State University, was always his son’s coach. But even then, he never went easy on him. Whether it be during little league games in Ohio or middle school games when they moved to Jacksonville, Verneal Sr. was always there to encourage his son to do better.
During one play in a little league game back in Ohio, Henshaw, who was running the option quarterback for his team, tried to “dance” with his defender instead of taking the extra yardage, his father said. He got tackled, and Verneal Sr. got upset.
“I got on him. I told him not to do that crazy stuff again,” he said. “I told him to play ball. When you play ball, play ball. Don’t be sitting out here trying to play around with these kids. Have fun, but let’s play ball.”
Throughout the years, the two have butted heads, whether over football or disagreements at home. But for the most part, Henshaw has listened to his father’s teachings, Verneal Sr. said.
“I was a lot harder on my son because I knew his potential, and I still know his potential,” Verneal Sr. said. “He would get frustrated. Everybody gets frustrated sometimes, but for the most part, he listened. He’s very coachable.”
A family legacy
At first, he couldn't believe it.
In spring 2017, Henshaw, just a sophomore at the time, was told by his coaches that he'd received an offer to play football for Florida Atlantic University.
“I thought the coach was lying,” said Henshaw, who has since garnered interest from the football programs at Georgia and Florida State.
For Verneal Sr., his son’s latest opportunity to play at the collegiate level is another notch under the belt.
Of his four children, three had, have or will have the opportunity to play a sport in college. His daughter Tamara, who played for FPC’s lady’s basketball team, is now a forward for the University of South Florida, and his other daughter Jasmine played basketball for Eastern Kentucky.
“It makes me prouder than anybody could ever be proud,” Verneal Sr. said. “One is a great achievement, and it puts you on top of the world. But then you get the second one and then the third one, and it makes you wonder if you have something in your genes or something.”
And for Henshaw, his family’s legacy is why he continues to pursue athletics. It's why he plays the game with a chip on shoulder.
“I want to make college for sure to prove not only to my family, but to everybody else that it’s in our blood,” he said. “And I wanna show my sisters out of course.”