Andy Henry had to become a better student before he could become a star football player at Linn-Mar High School.
Fortunately for Henry and the Lions, he figured it out in time.
Henry has emerged as one of the top receivers in the state this year and has been a major factor in Linn-Mar's success, which includes a 9-0 record and No. 1 seed for the Class 4A playoffs.
Poor grades almost got in the way.
"But I figured it out," Henry said Sunday after practice. "School got a lot easier. The teachers helped me out a lot. I've matured a lot. Now I'm focused on school and everything."
Henry said he had problems in middle school and during his freshman year in high school, and said he was academically ineligible for part of the varsity basketball season last year. "The light kind of turned on," he said. "I said I have to start growing up sometime, I might as well make it now."
Linn-Mar Coach Bob Forsyth is glad Henry understands the importance of academics.
"It's a conversation we always have with kids, how important academics are and how important it is to be movitated in school," Forsyth said. "I've had a lot of conversations with all the kids about that."
Henry has caught 45 passes for 925 yards and 17 touchdowns this season. He's also scored twice on kick returns, giving him 19 touchdowns in nine games.
He leads all Class 4A receivers with his 17 TD grabs and is tied for second in the state. He's scored at least one touchdown in every game this year and had three touchdowns against Jefferson, Dubuque Senior, Washington and Xavier.
Henry had his most productive game last Friday when he caught 10 passes for 176 yards and three TDs in a 28-7 victory at Xavier. He also had the distinction of scoring the first touchdown at new Linn-Mar Stadium this season with a 95-yard kickoff return against Kennedy.
Henry never imagined he'd enjoy this kind of success.
"Definitely not like this," he said. "I kind of figured that I'd have to step up this year, but I didn't think I would step up this much. I can't be more grateful for this opportunity."
Henry spent countless hours with Linn-Mar quarterback Mark Atwater during the offseason, working on pass patterns and their timing. Atwater has been singing Henry's praises since August and calls him a "spectacular" receiver.
Henry has been consistent all year. He caught four or five passes in each of Linn-Mar's first eight games, then reached double figures against Xavier when the Saints tried to guard him man-to-man.
Henry might have to carry a heavy load in the playoffs, starting Wednesday night when the Lions host Clinton (3-6). Linn-Mar tailback Mitch Wantock, who rushed for more than 1,100 yards this year, broke his ankle against Xavier and will be watching from the sidelines.
Forsyth said Brandon Ophoff will start at tailback, but said the Lions do not plan to make any major changes in their offense.
"Mitch is a big part of what we do. One thing we always try to preach to the kids, just like in life you have to overcome adversity," he said. "And this is a situation where we have a little adversity going on, but we're going to do our best to overcome it.
"We always talk about the system, and the system is really what matters. We feel like we can plug some kids in there and we'll be fine."
Ophoff battled Wantock for the starting job at tailback in preseason camp.
"To be honest, in the first couple of weeks it was a pretty even deal," Forsyth said. "Mitch kind of overtook it, but for a while they were pretty close. So I've got a lot of confidence in Brandon. He's a competitive kid."
Ophoff placed fifth in the 110 high hurdles at the Class 4A state track meet last spring. "He knows what it's like to be in that situation," Forsyth said. "We have every confidence in the world in him. I'm anxious to see him play a whole game on Wednesday."
Wantock visited practice Sunday afternoon and watched from a cart, a cast covering his broken right ankle. All the Lions came over, slapped hands and wished him well.
They'd like to win the state title, for him and themselves.
"The whole team, not just us seniors, have worked hard all summer," Henry said. "The football team definitely is not one person. There are 11 players on the field. We're going to overcome it.
"Brandon Ophoff is the starter," Henry continued. "He's doing a great job of filling in. He's working really hard in practice.
"He and Mark (Atwater) are coming in early to work on their handoffs and everything. I'm confident in Ophoff."
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