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Bottom Line for Henley Is Having Fun

November 12, 1987|TRACY DODDS | Times Staff Writer

A quick little film clip tells best what kind of a football player UCLA cornerback Darryl Henley is. It starts with Henley missing a tackle early in the second half of UCLA's game against Cal a couple of weeks ago.

Actually, he was one of four Bruins who dived at or got a hand on fullback Todd Powers after Powers caught a pass that went for 52 yards. But once the three others hit the dirt, they considered themselves out of the play.

Henley picked himself up, chased Powers--and ran him down, stopping him at the 11.

Cal was going to get that touchdown eventually, but Henley wasn't going to give it up without a fight.

Henley is only 5 feet 10 inches and is listed, generously, at 165 pounds. That big old fullback had escaped him once, but when Henley got hold of him the second time, he held on for dear life.

"It's like when somebody beats me on a pass," Henley said. "The next time I line up across from him, I look him right in the eye and let him know, 'You're not going to do that again.' There are a lot of little games going on within every game.

"You put yourself on the line, and it's a challenge. It's kind of . . ."

Henley, seldom at a loss for words, considered for a moment whether to be eloquent or honest, and honesty won out. With a big smile, he said: "What it really is, is fun."

Coach Terry Donahue knows how his feisty little cornerback feels about the game.

"Darryl's biggest strength is that he loves to play football," Donahue said. "He's a good athlete, he has real quick feet, he has good jumping ability, but he's not real big. He's just a real competitor.

"He's also made himself a threat on punt returns.

"As a cornerback, he shows courage. He's a good cover man. He'll be better in pro football than he is against Oklahoma or Nebraska, where he has to go against an option blocker every other down."

Donahue is not saying that Henley is too little to get the job done, because Henley gets the job done. He was a starter last year, as a sophomore, and now is an integral part of a defense that leads the conference in scoring defense, rushing defense, overall defense and is second in passing defense.

Henley is not among the team leaders in tackles, with a total of 37 in the first 9 games. But he has broken up 14 passes, by far the most on the team. And he also has caused a fumble, recovered a fumble and intercepted a pass.

It seems wherever there's action, there's Henley.

"I do like to get in the middle of things," Henley said. "But I seem to be in the middle of things, good or bad."

Such as the pass interference call at Oregon State last Saturday?

Well, at least he gets there.

Henley was a sprinter as well as a two-way football player at Damien High School in La Verne. His instincts take him where he wants to be, and he has the speed to get there in a hurry.

He really did want to do a little more with his punt returns than he has done this year, though.

He has averaged 11.3 yards on his 24 returns this season. And he had a 74-yard return for a touchdown in the opener. But he keeps having this feeling that he's due for a few more big ones.

At Oregon State last week, he got away for a 67-yard return that put him in the end zone, but a clipping call on Randy Beverly at the Oregon State 35 put the Bruins at the 50.

Was that a good call?

Again the loquacious Henley paused to consider.

"Honestly? Well, if I have to be honest, I think it was. I saw it out of the corner of my eye as I was going by, but I looked away and hoped none of the officials saw it. Just now I checked the films, and I saw it again.

"But you can't ever get upset with your teammates on something like that, because you're never going to break one unless they're out there trying to block for you."

Still, it was a disappointment.

"That run would have really helped my average," Henley said. "Before the season, I decided that I would really make a big improvement in my punt returns. Only you know what your own potential is, what you really can do, and I think I can do a lot better.

"Last year, I averaged about five yards a return. I didn't want to be just a little bit better. I wanted to be a lot better."

And he wasn't thinking 11. He was thinking more like 20. And more touchdowns.

With three more games this season and all of next year, Henley already is sixth on UCLA's career list for punt returns.

One of the best things about returning punts is that nobody ever tells him he's too little. When he presents himself as a defensive player, that's all he ever hears.

"People are all the time telling me I'm too little," Henley said. "I even went through all that stuff with the coaches at the beginning. Now it's mostly other people. What they tell me is, 'You sure look bigger in your uniform.' I'm getting used to it."

But he also is hearing a lot is compliments from opponents as they leave the field.

"Oh, yeah, you should have heard what one of the Oregon State coaches told me after the game last Saturday," Henley said, sounding amazed. "He told me I was fun to watch. Isn't that great?"

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