Story by Eli Ruiz
Although 2012 Democrat Player of the Year Ryan Henry seems perfectly cut from the cloth of a tight-end, for the Liberty High-School football team this season, Henry was much more than just a “position player,” as he quite literally did it all for the Indians this season.
Henry who has played on the varsity squad since his sophomore year started out the season at tight end/WR for Liberty. With hands seemingly slathered in glue, all season long the senior always found a way to catch any ball that came near him. A young man of few words, Henry says simply, “I just try to go out there every week and try to give the team my best effort.”
Best effort indeed, as Henry accounted for 1,092 total yards and 15 touchdowns rushing and receiving this season. Add in the fact that Henry also handled kickoffs, punts, extra point attempts and also played middle-linebacker on the Indian defense, and Henry never seemed to leave the football field.
Henry managed to come in second in all of Section IX in scoring with 17 total touchdowns, 28 PATs and 8 two-point conversions for a total of 146 points for the season.
In a testament to his multi-faceted skill set, Henry was forced in week five to move from his natural tight end position and into the Indian backfield when star Liberty running back, Kenny Jaycox, went down with a season-ending knee injury in a non-league 42-0 drubbing of Eldred. Even so, Henry still managed to finish fourth in Section IX in receiving with 27 catches for 548 yards a 20.3 yard per catch average and nine receiving touchdowns.
Says Liberty coach and Henry’s stepfather, John Wilhelm, “Well, going into the game after Eldred, coach [Ryan] Baldock and I made the decision to give Ryan [Henry] the nod at tailback. I mean it was literally just something that popped into our heads and it obviously worked out for the best.”
Henry would finish the season with 450 rushing yards on 54 carries an 8.33 yard per carry average with six touchdowns on the ground.
Even on defense, Henry, with 30 solo tackles, only trailed Liberty defensive freak Tony Saravia who finished with 52 solo tackles.
Henry’s even got a tremendous leg which Wilhelm attributes almost jokingly to his early days in AYSO soccer, “He played AYSO from about age 5-6 through the sixth grade until he could finally play modified football in seventh grade,” said Wilhelm.
Regardless of whether Henry’s early soccer days contributed to his leg strength, Henry did average close to 40 yards per punt this season, with his longest punt traveling 62 yards before rolling to a stop deep in Millbrook territory. He often gave his defense prime field position with which to operate this season with that powerful right leg of his.
“The kid is just a great athlete with great instincts regardless of whether it’s on offense, defense or special teams, and he works just as hard in practice,” adds Wilhelm.
Henry was also instrumental in the Indian’s season turnaround that saw them after a 1-2 start and the loss of Jaycox win six straight games after a week three 21-0 loss to arch-rival James I. O’Neill. During their winning steak, the Indians averaged an impressive 41 points per game, winning by an average margin of 31.5 points, garnering them upset wins against Burke Catholic, Dover and also Millbrook who they handled 35-18 in the Section IX Class C semifinal at Dietz Stadium.
Henry and the Indian’s winning ways allowed them to get another shot at the Raiders of James I. O’Neill in the Section IX championship game on November 3. Before the championship game O’Neill coach Andrew Finochio singled out Henry as his team’s main challenge saying, “Liberty does a lot of things offensively very well, and then you’ve got [Ryan] Henry who is dangerous running and receiving pretty much wherever you put him he’s a big factor.”
The Indians hung tough against O’Neill for more than three full quarters even leading early on but a deeper Raider squad would eventually wear down the Indians who lost the contest by a score of 35-14.
Asked what he felt was his most memorable performance of this his senior year, Henry said, “Probably the whole Burke game...yeah I’d have to say Burke.” Henry led an underdog Indian squad into that home game against Burke, and time and again overpowered the Burke defense with his size and strength up the middle rushing for more than 200 yards and even returning two interceptions for touchdowns in a 53-19 rout of the Eagles.
“I think Henry is an awesome athlete,” said Burke coach Ed Van Curen. “Certainly playing for a team like Liberty who had so many great athletes this year, it’s just a testament to his talent to be able to stand out in that group. He certainly handed it to us.”
A ‘B’ student, Henry has been recruited by several schools but says he’s got his eye on Div. III St. John Fisher in Rochester. “They’ve actually invited me to go up on the 17th as a guest to watch their playoff game against Castleton College,” said Henry. “He’s getting more calls now from colleges as coaches begin their recruiting for next season,” says Wilhelm.
Wherever this special player does eventually decide to take his boatload of skill and athletic ability, it’s almost scary to think that he will only get better, bigger and stronger at the next level.
One of the most versatile and athletically gifted players in Section IX this season, Ryan Henry proved himself to be one of the premier football players in the area with an excellent individual season, but more importantly, Henry provided the leadership and unselfishness that it takes to be a true team player, and for all of these reasons he is the 2012 Sullivan County Democrat Player of the Year.