Roll over Rudy, here comes Marcus
Jane Lierman had been hoping for a long time that her old pupil Marcus Henderson would come talk to her fifth-sixth grade class at Lake Oswego's Oak Creek Elementary.
When he did, his presentation was pretty overpowering, even for his former teacher. Henderson provided some important lessons for everybody.
Projected as the starting center for the 2008 Oregon State Beavers football team, the 6-5, 280-pound Henderson stunned everybody by wearing his full game gear into the classroom. That was awesome in itself, but then Henderson broke through a banner the children had made for him and later hiked the ball to aspiring quarterback D.J. Sebastian.
Yet that was only the beginning.
'What really impressed me was Marcus' story,' Lierman said. 'I had never heard his story before.'
Every football fan has heard the story of Rudy, the ultimate long shot who somehow earned a spot on the Notre Dame football team.
Certainly, the little guy was an inspirational figure, capable of causing warm hearts and moist eyes.
But Rudy did not have to face the challenges faced by Henderson.
A family splintered, abuse of himself and the people nearest to him, loss of his home, awful financial problems, injuries, temptations to take the easy way out and use drugs and alcohol to numb his problems.
Instead of giving in to any of these things, Henderson worked and focused and prayed.
'I tried to look for the positive in every challenge,' Henderson said. 'In a way, all of the problems made me the person I am today. I always try to focus on the positive.
'There is something positive in every situation. God has brought me to where I am today.'
At the ripe age of 10, Henderson became the man of his house. 'It took away my childhood,' he said.
Soon Henderson was the head of a family without a home, because it was lost, and he and his mother and sister had to move to a small, shabby apartment in Lake Oswego.
'It was a major downgrade,' Henderson said. 'It was devastating for my mom to lose our home because she had designed the floor plan. We had to get rid of things that meant so much to us. But she sacrificed so much to keep us together in Lake Oswego.'
These problems could not overshadow Henderson's great natural assets. He was big and strong and athletically gifted.
But because of his family's ever-shaky financial status he was never able to settle in at Lake Oswego High School until he was a senior, and a shoulder injury he suffered as a freshman ended his aspirations of becoming a wrestler.
But as it turned out, just one full football season was enough.
Although at that point in his career Henderson weighed a mere 225 pounds, in 2004 he managed to be named first team All-Three Rivers League, second team all-state, and earned a place in the Les Schwab Bowl.
'Everything kind of clicked,' Henderson said. 'When I was little I didn't even foresee myself playing football. I didn't expect what would happen. I had such great camaraderie with my teammates and my coaches were such a big influence.'
There was just one thing wrong. One great season was not enough to send college football scouts to come running Henderson's way.
He received no scholarship offers, and a scholarship was the only way that Henderson could go to college.
So once again it was time to work, focus and pray. He decided to walk on at Oregon State.
'By the time I walked on I had gotten my weight up to 265,' Henderson said.
Unfortunately, that weight gain proved only temporary after Henderson suffered a badly broken nose in a pickup basketball game.
Fortunately, he healed quickly and got his quest to be a Beaver back on track, thanks to a recommendation by LOHS head football coach Steve Coury to OSU head coach Mike Riley.
That first season with OSU, Henderson played in exactly one game, and his tuition money was running out fast. He needed a scholarship as the 2006 season approached and he needed it immediately.
'I told Coach Riley, 'I can't even wait until October,'' Henderson said. 'He said, 'Let me see what is available.' Three days later he told me that all of the coaches voted that they wanted to have me on the team. That was a miracle. For a walk-on to get a scholarship when they're only a sophomore. Usually it doesn't happen until you're a senior.
'When I told my mom about it she was speechless. She didn't believe me.'
Now, Henderson is making a believer out of everybody. Once somewhat undersized, his weight has increased to 280, and his coaches told him he was too smart and too athletic to be a tackle.
That was no backdoor compliment. Henderson was shifted to center, and from there he will anchor the Beaver offensive line this season.
'It's a huge responsibility,' Henderson said. 'Centers are like the generals of the offensive line. But I am very detail oriented.'
This brings us up to Jane Lierman's classroom, full of fifth and sixth graders and one dog, all ready for a session of hero worship.
'I had begged Marcus for the past couple years,' Lierman said. 'He showed our children how to live a really healthy lifestyle and how to overcome many obstacles. He was my student in kindergarten and after he went to OSU we reconnected.
'Marcus has such a wonderful presence. He's huge! And that was a very emotional speech that he presented.'
'I just wanted to do some payback,' Henderson said. 'To people like Mrs. Lierman. To people like Mrs. Schultz, who made sure that my family had a normal Christmas. That was really important to me in the fifth grade.'
With the impact Henderson made on her students, Lierman can consider herself paid back in full.
'He is really, really inspiring,' said Madeline Reece. 'He has a lot of dedication in what he wants to pursue.'
'He is really inspiring, even with all of his troubles,' said D.J. Sebastian. 'He still has time to care about others.'
'He's unique, because most football players only care about being rich and famous,' said Natalie Skowlund.
'He stayed out of drugs and alcohol,' said Callie Shaw. 'He stepped back and said 'No.''
'Most football players want to turn pro so they buy big cars and houses,' said Harrison Reece. 'He wants to do charity for single mothers.'
Giacomo Pacioni is already so big that it is easy to imagine him being a college lineman some day, and he said, 'It's amazing how he has kept such a healthy lifestyle. When he came in here he was so outgoing and he wanted to share his story with many people.'
Perhaps the biggest impact was made on Madison Owens, who admitted, 'I was kind of ungrateful before. He gave me a new view on things. He made me realize how much I should appreciate what I have.'
Henderson now has set a very large goal for himself: he wants to make the NFL.
'I'm in the same situation I was at in high school,' he said. 'No one knows much about me. This season I want to speak through my actions, not just in games but in practices. I want my game films to be my mission statement.'
Still, there is something much more important that Henderson wants to accomplish.
'My main goal will be to create a charity for abused families. So they won't have to worry about the stuff I did as a kid.'
No one should set any limits on Marcus Henderson. He doesn't set any for himself.
And he is no longer a long shot. Actually, he has out-Rudy-ed Rudy.