EVERETT — The Washington Stealth used the 23rd overall selection in the 2012 National Lacrosse League entry draft to select defenseman Tim Henderson.
But unlike most draft picks, making the opening-night roster is not Henderson’s sole focus. The 23-year-old has other responsibilities that go well beyond lacrosse.
In addition to being a promising Stealth rookie, Henderson is an active-duty member of the U.S. Army. And it’s a responsibility he takes seriously.
“This is what I signed up to do,” said Henderson, a 2012 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. “To me, this is not something I take lightly. … So, really, I said I would do (lacrosse) as long as it didn’t interfere with my military duty.”
Stealth general manager Doug Locker and head coach Chris Hall never questioned Henderson’s commitment to the military and have made every effort to work with him to make sure both schedules are manageable. So far, it’s worked.
“Monday through Friday right now I’m in (Army) training and it allows me to come out on the weekends and play, which is phenomenal,” Henderson said. “I love playing lacrosse and I love sports.”
Because most players in the league travel to the cities in which they play the day before a game and leave the following day, the NLL is a league that is able accommodate Henderson’s situation.
Henderson just wrapped up an internship at West Point and is transferring to Oklahoma for officer training in field artillery. He has looked over his schedule for the next four months — the length of the NLL regular season — and there doesn’t appear to be a conflict between his Army work schedule and his commitment to the Stealth.
Which is good for Henderson, but maybe even better news for the Stealth. Hall said Henderson has been one of the pleasant surprises of training camp.
Hall recalled a particular drill in which defensive players had to take on four players in sequence. Two consecutive times Henderson put down every player he faced. It was the first impression of Henderson for many of the Washington players, but not for Hall.
The Stealth coach came away impressed last summer after watching Henderson compete in the North-South NCAA senior game at Harvard. Hall was sitting with Locker when he first spotted Henderson. He immediately turned to Locker and asked, “Who’s that guy? I need to know who that guy is.”
Hall said many of the Stealth players had the same reaction when they saw Henderson in action at camp.
“I think our players had a little bit of a sense of who he was and where he was from, but they didn’t have a sense that he was that big and strong and quick and athletic,” Hall said.
Those are some of the qualities that give the 6-foot-3, 220-pound Henderson a real chance to make the roster. While the military comes first, becoming a professional athlete would be a dream come true.
“It’s every little kid’s dream,” he said. “I just remember going to games when I was a 5- and 6-year-old and thinking that’s what you want to do when you are older. Honestly I kind of lost track of it because you are playing three sports in high school. When you go to college you are playing sports and you don’t even know if you are going to get recognized or not. Especially going to a military academy I think it is a little bit tougher. But it means a lot to me just to know that … this is the highest level of the game.”
Henderson’s performance at training camp is made all the more impressive by the fact his lacrosse background is in field lacrosse. While there are obvious similarities, indoor lacrosse is a much more physical game and there is less space to operate.
“In outdoor, you get a lot of penalties if you are a physical player,” Henderson said. “Indoor, they don’t call anything. It’s just a very physical defense. You are constantly making contact and hitting people. I think I was always a physical defender outside and just kind of held back just because I would get so many penalties. So it’s kind of nice coming to the indoor league and they let you go a little bit.”
Henderson said his experience as a multi-sport athlete has helped him adjust to the indoor game.
“It’s constantly moving, picks and screens,” he said. “Honestly I think high school basketball helped me out with that, switching on picks and stepping up on them.”
Henderson and the Stealth are in Everett this weekend for their third week of training camp. Today is the final practice before Hall and Locker trim the 40-man roster to 23 active players and three practice-squad members. The roster has to be finalized by 9 a.m. PST Thursday.
Whether or not Henderson makes the team he has earned the respect of Hall, who said Henderson’s military background is evident when he steps on the floor.
“I think there is always that sense of huge respect for someone who chooses that career path …,” Hall said. “To sign up to be someone who is going to be a leader and in defense of freedoms and democracies and all those values that America stands for and this is a guy who signs up and is willing to put his life on the line to defend those values. I think the sense of respect that everybody in our organization and the players have when the guy steps on the floor is highly evident.
“And then to see the level of focus and the level of desire and the level of passion that he brings to the floor and every practice. He brings those values of country onto the playing surface. And it’s just like, ‘Oh my (gosh) this guy means business.’ He’s totally focused on what’s going on and putting every ounce of strength and energy into everything he is doing at every time. If we were all like that, who’s going to stop us?”
The Stealth get Henderson’s focus on weekends, but the Army gets it the rest of the week. Henderson said he wouldn’t be pursuing a career in pro lacrosse if he didn’t think he could give 100 percent to both.
“I made it very clear that I signed up to be in the military and that’s number one for me,” he said. “If this interfered, and if I thought I was putting somebody’s life at risk by doing this, I would immediately stop because that’s just my responsibility.”
Aaron Lommers covers the Washington Stealth for The Herald. Follow him on twitter @aaronlommers and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.