2010-05-13 / Sports
Making the cut
Henderson, Kackert hoping to beat the odds as NFL tailbacks
Chad Kackert and Alex Henderson have already beaten the odds to make it this far.
But these underdogs want to keep going.
Kackert and Henderson have a lot in common.
They operate from the same position, running back. They hail from smaller Division I schools. They played high school football within 30 miles of each other.
Kackert was a record-setting back at Grace Brethren of Simi Valley, where he finished second on the state career list with 131 career rushing touchdowns. He helped the Lancers win a 2004 section championship.
After a solid career at the University of New Hampshire, Kackert signed a free-agent rookie contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The former Coyote developed into one of the most prolific rushers in Northern Arizona University history. He inked a rookie deal with the St. Louis Rams.
The players survived their first minicamps earlier this month and hope to eventually land a spot on the final roster.
“It’s definitely an experience I’ll remember,” Kackert said.
Kackert has heard from cynics his entire life that he’s too small to play football. He’s listed on the Jaguars’ website at 5-foot9, 199 pounds.
His parents, Craig and Bette, had their reservations at first, too.
“Even my parents told me I was too small to play,” Kackert said. “They don’t believe that anymore.”
Kackert, 23, wondered if he’d still be playing football if he’d attended a bigger high school.
“If I was at Royal or Simi Valley, I don’t think I’d have the opportunity to play because of my size,” he said.
“I’ve always had a very strong passion for the game. I always wanted to be a big part of a winning team. I didn’t let anyone tell me otherwise.”
Kackert began his foray into the sport at age 12 playing for the Simi Valley Vikings youth team.
At Grace Brethren, Kackert didn’t move to running back until six games into his sophomore year. He was primarily a slot receiver and cornerback before the switch.
In his first start at running back, Kackert said he finished with 230 yards and three scores.
The Lancer never slowed down, finishing with 6,734 rushing yards and those 131 scores before his 2005 graduation.
He ran for 3,438 yards and 55 touchdowns his senior year at Grace Brethren, the best figures in California in 2004.
Kackert rumbled for 879 yards and 10 scores for New Hampshire in 2009.
“He has been absolutely, completely dedicated at every point of his career,” said former GBHS head coach Terry Gourley.
“Before his pro day, I asked him, ‘What’s your biggest fear?’ He said, ‘I don’t have one. I just have to do what I do. It’s either going to happen or it’s not going to happen. I just need the opportunity.’ That’s the way he approached every game.
“He’s just amazing. . . . Every step of his football career, he’s been told he can’t get it done. It’s unbelievable. Just unbelievable.”
Kackert, who runs the 40-yard dash in 4.31 seconds, is currently working out with former UNH Wildcat teammates and completing his education.
He will graduate with a degree in kinesiology/athletic training on May 22 and then fly out to Jacksonville the next day to resume workouts.
Henderson, 22, also has had an uphill climb to reach the NFL.
Recruited primarily by smaller schools—including New Hampshire—Henderson enjoyed a fine career with the Lumberjacks. He finished with 3,462 rushing yards and 26 touchdowns at NAU.
Like Kackert, Henderson uses his speed to make gamechanging plays.
“He’s probably our most explosive guy,” said Northern Arizona offensive coordinator Brian Lindgren. “Any time he got the ball in his hands to run a route or catch the ball in the backfield, he could turn it into a big play.”
After spending two years at Quartz Hill, Henderson transferred to Calabasas. He rushed for a CHS single-season record 1,159 yards in 2004, adding 11 touchdowns.
The 2005 Calabasas graduate comes from an athletic family. His father, Willie, played baseball at Cal State University Northridge, and his cousin Michael Young played for the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Clippers in the NBA.
Henderson has a fighter’s chance to secure a roster spot.
The Rams feature running back Steven Jackson, who is coming off his worst season and has a history of battling injuries. Also, St. Louis didn’t select a runner in the draft.
The former Lumberjack, who graduated in December with a degree in criminal justice, will likely compete with free-agent rookie backs Keith Toston and DeMaundray Woolridge for the third spot on the depth chart.
“He’s in a good situation, and hopefully he makes the most of it,” said NAU running backs coach Chris Taylor. “Overall, he’s a good person. I’m most proud that he got his degree before his career started.”
Taylor, who was drafted by the Steelers in 2001, said the “dynamic” Henderson has the durability to carry the ball 25-30 times a game or provide a spark with a breakout play.
Lindgren said Henderson needs to prove his versatility.
“There are two things he has to show them,” the offensive coordinator said. “On special teams, can he help them out? And he needs to prove, ‘Hey, I can step up and block blitzing NFL linebackers who are quite a bit bigger than me.’
“We’re excited for him. Hopefully he can take advantage of this opportunity.”
This is Henderson’s chance to make waves in St. Louis.
“Alex has every opportunity to make that team and make a lot of contributions,” Taylor said. “It’s up to Alex.”