He was talking about the total turn-around Ponitz High football made in just three seasons.
“How do you go from 2-8, which was the best record the school had had up to that point, to 7-3 just a couple of seasons later?” Coach Jim Place was asking. “You get kids with high character and leadership. You get a kid like Xavier Henry, and you build everything around him.”
Talk about a total turn-around.
Back in 2014 — when Ponitz was 2-8 and finished the season with just 20 players and a 76-0 drubbing at the hands of Thurgood Marshall — Henry played on some special teams for the Golden Panthers varsity, but mostly was a JV player.
By his own measurement, he said he was “maybe 4-foot-10 and 100 pounds.”
“That sounds about right,” said his mom, Angela, a phlebotomist at the Kettering Cancer Center. “He really was small, so much so that his pediatrician sent him for some tests to see if anything was going on. But there was nothing out of the ordinary. He was OK.”
Actually, better than OK.
Over the next two years he would grow. He says he’s now 5-foot-8 or 5-9 and 165 pounds.
And he’s a lot taller than that if you measure him for character said his coach.
A natural leader
“At the start of this past season, we had four quarterbacks and he, by far, was the smallest, and they all were stronger,” Place said. “But he won the starting job through his leadership and character. The guys just rallied to him. You can’t believe how few penalties we had this year, and a lot of it’s due to his overall leadership.”
An option quarterback, Henry threw for 976 yards and 13 touchdowns and ran for 521 yards and 14 more TDs.
A student at Dayton Early College Academy (DECA) — students there can play for any Dayton Public Schools athletic team — Henry carries a 3.47 grade point average.
Outside the classroom, he’s involved in various activities including DECA’s Peer Mediation program.
“If students have conflicts with each other, we try to talk to them and settle it,” Henry said. “It works for some students and for those who won’t move past it, then we have to take it on to the administration and the principal.”
It’s because of a varied resume like that that the National Football Foundation’s Cincinnati chapter has chosen Henry as one of the 10 high school football players from Southwest Ohio to be honored at its “That’s My Boy” awards banquet Tuesday at the Renaissance Hotel in Cincinnati. Each nominee receives a $1,000 scholarship and one player will be chosen for a $5,000 scholarship.
New University of Cincinnati football coach Luke Fickell will be the keynote speaker.
Waynesville High’s Mason Callahan is also one of the 10 honorees. Josh Myers, the Miamisburg lineman who’ll play for Ohio State next season, will be presented with the Antony Munoz Foundation’s Offensive Lineman of the Year award and Miami University wide receiver Sam Shisso will be honored as a scholar-athlete.
‘Like a rock’
If anybody deserves to be honored it is Henry, said Place.
“This program had five coaches in its first seven years of existence,” said Place, the Ohio High School Coaches Hall of Famer who took over at Ponitz in 2015. “There was a lot of instability, a lot of ups and downs. But Xavier was like a rock. He hung in there and didn’t quit.”
Henry said those lessons came from his parents, Angela and his dad, Byron:
“My parents taught all of us, if you commit to something, you do it. You stick it out and you work as hard as you can.”
He said his parents’ lessons have served him well:
“They were always strict, especially when we were young, and they made sure we stayed on top of our grades. As we got older, it just kind of became natural. We knew what was expected of us.
“The main thing was that they made sure we hung around the right type of people so we wouldn’t be influenced in the wrong way.”
Angela said one key was that “my husband is an exceptional role model for all four of our boys.”
She said Xavier may be the most independent of their kids: “When he puts his mind to something, he goes for it 110 percent.”
That’s how he went after the starting job this past season after two years in the shadows.
Chasing dream at Miami
“I was really determined to be the starting quarterback, and I worked as hard as I could in the weight room and on my own,” he said. “When other people were probably playing video games or doing other things, I was still working.”
It was because of that attitude that Place nominated him for consideration for the award and why the NFF chose him as one of its top 10.
“We have 18 starters coming back for next year,” Place said. “But I told our guys, ‘I’m worried about you, because we graduate so much character. I’m worried, because we’re losing Xavier Henry.’”
Henry plans to go to Miami University next year. He hopes he can be a walk-on, but whether that happens or not, Place won’t forget the scene after his quarterback’s last game for Ponitz.
“He has twin brothers who are freshman, and they’re good players, too,” he said. “The last game all three of them started. And afterward, I remember seeing Mom and Dad on the field with them taking pictures. I remember thinking, ‘That’s a family that’s done it right.’
“Standing there with Xavier, you could tell they were proud.”
That, too, was a “That’s My Boy” evening.