Michigan State's football team reported for fall camp today. The Spartans will begin practice tomorrow, with 29 days between Day 1 of practice and the season-opener against Western Michigan.
At this time a year ago, fifth-year senior safety Xavier Henderson didn't believe he would still be in East Lansing in 2022. The leader of Michigan State's defense expected to be in training camp for an NFL franchise.
However, down the stretch of the 2021 season, Henderson knew that he had more he wanted to accomplish as a Spartan and show on film to NFL scouts.
“I just knew that I didn’t do what I need to do to be where I wanted to be last year, toward the tail-end of the year," Henderson said at Big Ten Media Days last week. "After the Ohio State game, going into the Penn State game, I knew I wasn’t where I wanted to be, where I know I can be."
So, after Michigan State defeated Pittsburgh in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl to cap an 11-2 season, Henderson made the decision to return to East Lansing for one more ride as a Spartan.
The reality that this is his final go around at Michigan State has hit the senior hard in recent weeks.
“It feels so real. Just the things I want to do,” Henderson said, before trailing off an opening up about his emotions.
"Like, it’s scary. I’m scared, so I’m working hard because I’m scared to not be as successful as I want to be," he said. "I’m really feeling that kind of pressure, but I’m dealing with it. Everybody has that kind of pressure when they’ve got things that they want to do. You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do to try to be where you want to be.”
There's a lot that Henderson wants to accomplish in his final season in East Lansing. He wants to end Michigan State's Big Ten title drought that stretches back to 2015, he wants to make a run at a national championship and he wants to show NFL scouts that he can play football at the highest level.
“It’s just scary seeing dudes that play my position, that I think are really good, go undrafted," Henderson said.
But the senior is letting that fear of failure drive him to wring out every ounce of ability he has in 2022.
"When you’ve got something that you’re really passionate about, and you’ve put so much work in and really feel like you should be this and that, and you think you’re working hard – like, it's just a personal question for yourself that I ask myself. Am I working hard enough? Fear is not a bad thing, because I think it drives me a little bit," Henderson said.
It's interesting to hear the senior talk about coming up short in 2021, considering he led his team in tackles with 96 total stops. While the Spartans struggled in pass defense throughout 2021, no one ever questioned that Henderson was the strength of MSU's secondary.
In 2022, the safety has taken it upon himself not only to improve his own game, but to hold his fellow defensive backs to a high standard as well.
“I’ve been working my butt off this year," Henderson said. "I’ve been working my butt off to help other guys get better this summer.”
While he went into the 2021 season with extreme confidence, the fifth-year senior is taking a different approach as fall camp begins in 2022. Henderson is letting a healthy dose of fear keep him from being over-confident.
“Maybe that’s why I could have had a better season last year, because maybe I was a little too confident, you know what I mean, and not scared enough," he said. "I don’t know. It’s just something that I think about at the end of the day.”
The trick is to blend healthy amounts of fear and confidence together. That creates a player who knows what he's capable of, but humble enough to realize he has to go out and achieve it.
“I’m excited," Henderson said of the coming season. "I’m confident, but I’m also scared. I’m still working, and I’m going to keep working throughout this season.”