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‘Keep Getting Used to His Name'

Highlights of the article:

  • Those who knew Trey Hendrickson of the Cincinnati Bengals in college told Sportscasting that his NFL accomplishments come as no surprise.
  • Former teammates of the Pro Bowl pass rusher discussed what made him so remarkable at Florida Atlantic University, a mid-major university.
  • Former FAU defensive coordinator Roc Bellantoni Roc Bellantoni Roc Bellantoni spoke to Sportscasting about Hendrickson’s development as a player and as a person during his time at FAU.

Ray Ellis, a former Florida Atlantic University defensive lineman, had one phrase — in all capitals, no less — that he wanted his Twitter followers to know every Sunday throughout the NFL season.

“HENDRICKSON.”

Trey Hendrickson, a former college classmate of Ellis’ and a Pro Bowl pick in 2021, is the subject of the brief proclamation. Hendrickson spent four years at FAU, persevering through three consecutive losing seasons, sparse crowds, and double-teams to earn an opportunity to play professional football. Long before he sacked Green Bay Packers star Aaron Rodgers and Kansas City Chiefs icon Patrick Mahomes in front of packed NFL stadiums, Hendrickson spent four years at FAU, persevering through three consecutive losing seasons, sparse crowds, and double-teams to earn an opportunity to play professional football.

Before Super Bowl 56, Sportscasting met with former teammates and coaches of Hendrickson to learn more about how the under-recruited prospect from Apopka, Florida, became one of the NFL’s most prolific sack artists and a key part of the Bengals’ title ambitions.

Hendrickson was remembered by his old collegiate teammates and coaches as a raw but motivated young player.

Cincinnati Bengals pass-rusher Trey Hendrickson in college (L) and in the NFL.

Cincinnati Bengals pass-rusher Trey Hendrickson in college (L) and in the NFL. Trey Hendrickson, a pass rusher with the Cincinnati Bengals, still enjoys getting to the quarterback | Getty Images/Rob Foldy; Getty Images/Dylan Buell

Hendrickson, who played tight end and defensive end at Apopka High School in the early 2010s, didn’t have the best scouting services. When signing with FAU in 2013, 247 Sports ranked him as a 2-star recruit and the country’s 101st-best weak-side defensive end in the Class of 2013. Rivals likewise rated him as a 2-star after he signed with FAU in 2013.

As a true freshman, Hendrickson has nine tackles and one sack in 12 games for FAU, which he picked over New Mexico and Western Kentucky. Following the retirement of head coach Carl Pelini, the Owls went on to win their remaining four games. Despite completing with a 6-6 record, FAU was unable to qualify for a bowl game.

Hendrickson’s next appearance on a winning team came as a rookie with the New Orleans Saints.

Ellis, a 6-foot-2, 243-pound defensive lineman from Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey, was among many in the first of three signing classes under new head coach Charlie Partridge who were blown away by Hendrickson’s potential.

“I saw the sort of drive he had, and he was so raw compared to how he was towards the conclusion of his college career, but you just knew he could go as far as he wanted to go with football.”

Ray Ellis

Roc Bellantoni Roc Bellantoni Roc Bellantoni, who was the defensive coordinator at FAU from 2014 to 2016, described Hendrickson as a raw but determined pass rusher.

“He was really competitive and fierce,” Bellantoni added. “He despised losing a rep. We believed he had the potential to be a great player.”

Florida Atlantic defensive end Trey Hendrickson in 2015.

Florida Atlantic defensive end Trey Hendrickson in 2015. Defensive end for Florida Atlantic Rob Foldy/Getty Images Trey Hendrickson celebrates a sack in 2015.

Cornerback Raekwon Williams, a member of the 2014 signing class, wondered whether every collegiate defensive lineman was as “cocky and snappy” as Hendrickson.

Williams told Sportscasting over instant messaging, “Trey would never hold his mouth about how he would outcompete you.” “I assumed it was all nonsense.” Seeing how large he was, I thought to myself, “Man, I know he’s slow as dirt.” I couldn’t wait for practice to begin.”

Williams said that he and Hendrickson once competed in a 5-yard split race, but the skilled defensive end won all three times. When the match was adjusted to 10-yard splits, the cornerback eventually won.

“Trey is an unflappable competitor who never gives up!” Williams stated his opinion. “He doesn’t stop. It’s as if he has a mental switch that toggles on and off between the lines! It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen!”

Hendrickson’s dominating 2015 season, according to Bellantoni, acted as a wake-up call.

In a blowout defeat against No. 22 Nebraska, Hendrickson started the 2014 season and earned two tackles. During his second season, he improved and finished with five sacks, ten tackles for a loss, and two forced fumbles.

Then came his junior season, which Bellantoni warmly recalls. In FAU’s second straight 3-9 finish, Hendrickson had 13.5 sacks, 15 tackles for loss, and five forced fumbles.

Bellantoni remembers Hendrickson’s strong effort against No. 8 Florida in November of 2015 as one of his favorite performances of the year. The third-year defensive end recorded five tackles, two sacks, caused a fumble that was returned for a game-tying score by freshman defensive back Ocie Rose, and even blocked an extra goal in overtime against the widely fancied Gators.

Despite FAU’s failure to pull off the shock that day, Bellantoni thought Hendrickson’s prospects of playing in the NFL were solidified.

Florida Atlantic defensive end Trey Hendrickson in 2015.

Florida Atlantic defensive end Trey Hendrickson in 2015. Defensive end for Florida Atlantic In 2015, Trey Hendrickson took on the University of Florida | Getty Images/Rob Foldy

Bellantoni recalls, “I believe that’s when we knew the man was outstanding as a player and had a shot to be a terrific NFL player.” “After that, he began receiving scout traffic, and we thought he had a decent chance.”

Despite being double- and triple-teamed by opposing offensive linemen during the 2016 season, Hendrickson had 9.5 sacks, 15 tackles for loss, and four kick blocks on way to earning C-USA Defensive Player of the Year. FAU, on the other hand, ended 3-9 for the third time in a row and dismissed Partridge.

As they say, the rest is history. Lane Kiffin, Alabama’s offensive coordinator, succeeded Partridge and led FAU to two C-USA championships in three seasons. He is widely regarded as the best head coach in the program’s brief existence. Hendrickson, meanwhile, was taken 103rd overall in the 2017 NFL Draft by the New Orleans Saints.

Those who knew Hendrickson in college are proud of his progress with the Bengals.

Everyone who talked with Sportscasting thanked God for allowing them to see Hendrickson’s growth. “It’s a joy to watch all his hard work come to reality,” former FAU defensive end Haiden Nagel told Sportscasting.

Hendrickson has 13.5 sacks in 2020 after three years as a rotational defender with the Saints. In free agency, the Bengals signed him to a four-year, $60 million deal, and the fifth-year defense helped the AFC North winners to 14 sacks and three forced fumbles. In the Bengals’ first three postseason games, he had 2.5 sacks and forced a fumble.

Hendrickson has often linked his success to his religion and his wife, Alisa. Despite obtaining a hefty deal and becoming a household figure, the former FAU standout has attempted to focus all of his attention on the team’s overall performance and his desire to win.

None of this comes as a surprise to Bellantoni.

“He’ll confess that early in his career, he was more concerned with himself, but the final year we worked with him, all he cared about was the team and trying to help us turn things around.” I heard him claim that the Bengals just care about winning in an interview, and I heard him say it a million times at FAU last year. He was unconcerned with sacks or statistics. He was determined to triumph.”

Roc Bellantoni Roc Bellantoni Roc Bellantoni

Ellis doesn’t want people to think Hendrickson is a one-hit wonder who will be satisfied with his accomplishment after two years.

“From what I’ve seen of him, he’s far from finished refining himself and his trade,” Ellis added. “So I’d advise you to get accustomed to his name.”

Bengals fans won’t forget Hendrickson’s name anytime soon if his performance in 2021 is any indication of what’s to come. By a long shot, no.

Like Sportscasting on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter @sportscasting19.

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