A quality quarterback has to be a leader.
Good thing for the Union football team, a leader has been preparing to become a quarterback practically his entire life.
Nolan Henry, a 6-foot sophomore with an accurate throwing touch, did not become a leader when he earned the starting role for the Titans. Those skills he developed with years of commitment to learning and serving.
A 4.0 student who challenges himself with the toughest of courses, Henry has not only worked with the Titans Youth Foundation’s food drive the past four years, but he has run the program the past two campaigns.
As a freshman, he was cold-calling businesses for sponsorships, asking community leaders to donate prizes for the big event. He also was emailing media outlets to get the word out about the drive at the Clark County Youth Football jamboree. On those emails, he was listed as the contact for more information, not his parents, not some professional charity worker.
“I deserve no recognition,” Henry said. “It’s something I should be doing. I hold some things high in my life, to lead a good life and to help people as much as I can.”
Oh, and to throw a tight spiral.
The Titans are 4-1 in Henry’s first season under center. He has completed 61 of 88 passes (69 percent) for 904 yards and five touchdowns.
Leadership on the field comes easier for a team that is winning. However, Henry impressed his teammates in Union’s lone loss this season. Jesuit, one of the best teams in Oregon, shut down the Titans in the first half.
“At halftime, the coaches said this is our season. How we play in the second half will define the rest of our season,” junior center Josh Lee said. “We played really hard, and Henry was definitely really calm and collected. He’s definitely a leader. I think everyone likes him.”
That confidence in the huddle, and then facing that Jesuit defense in Week 2, also made an impression on his coach.
“He did not look out of place in that game,” Union coach Cale Piland said.
A sophomore QB, going up against a team that was then ranked No. 1 in Oregon, handled the pressure.
For Henry, all of this has been a work in progress since he was little, getting advice from his parents, Darin and Monica Henry.
Leading a football team is much like leading a food drive. One has to make the right decisions, get the best people in the best position to succeed.
And, of course, communication is a must.
“It started when I was young,” he said. “My dad pushed me to get comfortable talking to people. That’s really helped me.”
The rule at Union is the quarterback is the only one in the huddle who speaks. Lee said Henry has no problem taking charge in there.
Henry understands that he is just one of 11 on the field at a time.
“I’m really appreciative of all the support from my teammates,” he said. “It’s great to step into a role where I can be a leader with this offense and play with all the talent that we have.”
The last two games, Henry has completed 25 of 30 passes. Not that he is aware of his numbers while he is playing.
“When I’m out there, I’m just focusing on executing,” he said. “I notice that we’re catching a ton of passes. Trent (Cowan), Treve’ (Ensley) and Bryce (Evans), I can trust them to run great routes. I’m focused on getting the ball to the athletes on our team.”
Piland said there have been a few long sessions in practice, with the offense doing its thing, that the ball never touches the ground.
“He’s getting better and better every week,” Piland said. “We don’t know how high his ceiling is. I don’t think he knows, which is a good thing. He just works on getting better.”
On the football field. In the classroom. And in the community.
Henry takes three advanced placement courses. His goal is to finish high school with a perfect grade-point average.
“I’ve always tried to take the hardest classes I could. I want to master subjects,” he said. “It might be harder for me, but it’s definitely paying off.”
He says Saturdays are for fun with his friends, hanging out and watching college football. Like any other teen-age sports fan.
His week is exhausting, though.
School, practice, home to hit the books. Then he watches game film.
While just about every high school player studies himself and his opponent on video, Henry has been using that tool for years. He first worked on his quarterback skills while in the second grade.His cousin is Kellen Clemens, a former University of Oregon standout who is now a backup quarterback for the St. Louis Rams. Clemens introduced Henry to the Greg and Taylor Barton — of the Barton Football Academy.
“I was one of the little kids working with them,” Henry boasted.
The quarterback grooming, the attention to detail in school, the community projects, all have led Henry to the Union backfield.
“All those things have really prepared me. No matter what we’re facing, stay poised,” Henry said. “I know I can trust my teammates. I hope they can trust me, and we can get things done as a team.”