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Henley's Success--It's All in the Family

October 09, 1986|MITCH POLIN | Times Staff Writer

It is not surprising that Eric Henley has been a successful running back for the Damien High football team for two years. He's just continuing a family tradition.

Brothers Tom and Darryl also starred in the backfield for Damien. Tom is a senior running back at Stanford and Darryl a defensive back at UCLA.

And 17-year-old Eric, the last Henley to play for the La Verne school, is showing that he doesn't need to stand in his brothers' shadows.

In his first year on the varsity as a junior, Henley rushed for 1,333 yards and 18 touchdowns and caught 24 passes for 293 yards to lead the Spartans to the CIF Eastern Conference championship game.

Henley's senior season started slowly but is getting better. After rushing for only 107 yards on 31 carries in the first two games, the 5-10, 165-pound Henley came back with 179 yards in 27 carries against St. Francis and followed that performance by rushing for 295 yards in 22 runs in a 28-13 win over Alta Loma. He scored three touchdowns.

He is also Damien's leading receiver with 12 catches for 112 yards.

"I think some people expect me to follow in my brothers' footsteps," Henley said. "But I play football because I enjoy it. If I didn't enjoy it, I wouldn't play it."

Not that Henley has not benefited from having two older brothers play the game well.

He has learned a lot about football by watching them since he was an eighth-grader.

"I used to come out to watch them play whenever I could," he recalled. "But I didn't learn just from watching them. They also taught me a lot of things."

Henley learned a lot by working out with his brothers during the summer.

"They taught me how to read defenses and how to find holes. I think my abilities are all a blessing from God, but my brothers have played a big part and so has my coach (Dick Larson)."

While Henley does not like to be compared to his brothers, Larson said there are similarities.

"I find him similar to Darryl in terms of elusiveness and stature," said Larson, who has coached all of the Henleys. "One difference is that he (Eric) doesn't play defense. I think Tom was a more powerful runner."

Power is not the word used most often to describe Eric. More common are versatility and finesse .

Henley, who has respectable 4.6-second speed in the 40-yard dash, has played wide receiver, returns punts and kicks and is the team's leading receiver, with 12 catches for 120 yards and 1 touchdown.

"He has great vision on the field," Larson said. "He can see an opening and take advantage of it. The linemen are excited blocking for him because he always has the potential to break off one (run) for a score. He makes it exciting for them."

Added Henley: "I think my speed and my ability to find the holes are things I do well. It also helps to be able to catch passes."

But for the most part, the soft-spoken Henley has a self-effacing attitude about his success. Ask him about it and he will probably credit his offensive linemen, brothers, parents or coaches.

"His parents have had a lot to do with that," Larson said.

Henley's parents, Thomas and Dorothy, have also stressed the importance of education to their sons. All have been B students or better.

"They have stressed getting good grades," Eric said. "They told us to use football as an instrument to get a good education."

The youngest Henley is being recruited by many colleges and does not figure to have problems making the NCAA's entrance examinations.

Considered one of the top college prospects in the Southland, Henley said he has received phone calls or letters from nearly 100 colleges, but the recruiting process has not been a burden.

"I'll get letters and I hear from them (by phone), but since the season has started they don't bother me as much," he said. "They know that this is an important year for me."

Although he has played mostly as a running back, Larson and Henley agree that his future is probably as either a defensive back or wide receiver. "I'd probably fit more into those positions because of my size," he said.

Henley said it is too early to say whether he will follow his brothers to either UCLA or Stanford.

"Right now I want to concentrate on having a good year and helping our team do well in the CIF championships."

Henley vividly remembers his team's disappointing ending last season, losing to Baseline League rival Claremont (37-22) in the Eastern Conference title game. He is hoping the Spartans go a step further this year.

"Our goal is to win the league title, make the finals and this time win the championship," he said.

Larson is not looking forward to next season, when he will not have a Henley in his lineup.

"I've had brothers in the past and I know how that goes," Larson said. "You just have to accept that they're gone and go on.

"But there is something about the Henleys that sticks with you. I wouldn't be truthful if I didn't say I'd miss the Henleys. They are nice people and nice people are fun to coach."

Fortunately, Larson will not have to deal with that for a while. At least not for another two months or so.

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