Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 11 Ramon Henderson, junior cornerback-turned-safety

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Listed measurements: 6-foot-1, 190 pounds.
2022-23 year, eligibility: A junior, Henderson has three seasons of eligibility remaining thanks to the universal pandemic eligibility waiver granting him exactly one extra game in 2020.
Depth Chart: Notre Dame has five safeties competing for two starting spots. More precisely, the Irish have four safeties competing to start alongside Northwestern transfer and preseason All-American Brandon Joseph. Henderson is very much in that mix, mostly joined by fifth-year veterans DJ Brown and Houston Griffith, with junior Xavier Watts representing a more physical approach for certain situations.
Recruiting: Henderson waited until December’s signing period to choose Notre Dame over Utah with Tennessee, Washington and Oklahoma also giving chase. While recruiting rankings may have considered Henderson a three-star prospect, any defensive back pursued by the Huskies deserves the benefit of the doubt.

CAREER TO DATE
Henderson appeared on special teams in five games in 2020, a number that would usually be viewed as an absolute waste of a year of eligibility, but in that specific season, the fifth game had no effect on Henderson’s future.

He had arrived in South Bend looking to play cornerback after spending much of his high school career at receiver. That led to a natural adjustment period, one then turned on its head when he moved to safety halfway through the 2021 season. Once Henderson made that move, he took over as a starter and helped Notre Dame survive the loss of All-American Kyle Hamilton (until the Fiesta Bowl’s second half).

2020: 5 games.
2021: 13 games, 4 starts; 14 tackles with half of one for loss and one interception along with one pass broken up.

NAME, IMAGE, LIKENESS

QUOTES
Henderson learned he would move to safety a day later than the rest of the team. He was sick the Monday before Notre Dame went to Virginia, thus missing the initial install that the rest of the Irish studied. He learned Tuesday, and his whirlwind week found stability late Thursday when his mother reminded him safety is not all that different from cornerback.

“I told her what’s going on, and she told me, be calm, be confident in myself,” Henderson said. “I’ve been doing this for a long time, playing football since I was seven, so at the end of the day, it’s just playing football.”

That calm may have paid off then, but it pales in comparison to the steadiness brought by a full winter and spring of working at safety.

“Playing helped me gain more confidence in myself,” Henderson said this spring. “The confidence was always there, but I can see more self-reliant on myself. I never doubted myself. …

“[Playing was] key. It gives me a little bit more experience.”

WHAT WAS PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
“That 6-foot-3 recruiting listing was clearly embellished, but it can be thought of as illustrative of Henderson’s wingspan. He is a long 6-foot-1 and a fast 6-foot-1. Anyone able to crack 10.6 seconds in the 100-meter dash warrants notice as a speed threat, and combining that with his length should give Henderson more defensive opportunities this season.

“But his most likely contributions will come on special teams. Special teams coordinator Brian Polian needs to revamp most of his units simply due to roster churn, and Henderson’s profile would fit well on punt and kickoff coverages.

“Backing up (Cam) Hart will eventually lead to at least a few series of work for Henderson, at the absolute least, be it via a tough hit or getting burned on an off day. These are the tribulations of all cornerbacks, and why depth there is so vital.”

2022 OUTLOOK
Henderson played more than Brown to close the season, something that suggests he could do so early this year, as well. If so, Henderson may suddenly be a starter.

His speed and overall athleticism shined in his opportunities last year, leading to some subtle summer buzz. That buzz may yield little, but it is something that has not often accompanied Notre Dame’s safeties.

Regardless of if he starts, Henderson will find his way into the defensive rotation. He was projected as a nickel back entering last season, and per Brian Kelly, Henderson spent most of the season practicing at nickel back. If fifth-year nickel back Tariq Bracy is played off the field for the fourth time in his five years, then perhaps Henderson will move into that need. If not, he should still be a prime candidate to round out the Irish dime package.

New defensive coordinator Al Golden may be a linebackers coach at heart, and his best defensive unit is unquestionably the defensive line, but his safeties could be the pieces that turn Notre Dame’s defense from good to great. The Irish have cornerback worries, both in depth and quality, but they have an abundance of safeties. At least three of which — Joseph, Griffith and Henderson — have spent time at cornerback.

The coverage possibilities among that group should compensate for those cornerback concerns. Henderson will play a role in that, albeit one yet uncertain.

DOWN THE ROAD
Joseph, Griffith and Brown should all be gone in 2023. Notre Dame is recruiting impressive safeties in the class of 2023, with two committed already, but Henderson looks earmarked to be a starter next season, as well as in 2024 if he is still in South Bend.

For a high school receiver that did not move to safety until the back half of his sophomore season, becoming a multi-year starter is quite the ascension, especially if “multi-” ends up meaning “three-” in this instance.

NOTRE DAME 99-TO-0
From Blake Grupe to Braden Lenzy, the offseason countdown begins anew
No. 99 Blake Grupe, kicker, Arkansas State transfer
No. 99 Rylie Mills, junior defensive lineman, a tackle now playing more at end

No. 98 Tyson Ford, early-enrolled freshman, a defensive tackle recruited as a four-star end
No. 97 Gabriel Rubio, sophomore defensive tackle, still ‘as wide as a Volkswagen’
No. 92 Aidan Keanaaina, a junior defensive tackle who tore his ACL in March
No. 91 Josh Bryan, sophomore kicker
No. 91 Aiden Gobaira, early-enrolled freshman defensive end, four-star recruit
No. 90 Alexander Ehrensberger, junior defensive end, a German project nearing completion
No. 88 Mitchell Evans, sophomore tight end
No. 87 Michael Mayer, junior tight end, likely All-American
No. 85 Holden Staes, incoming freshman tight end
No. 84 Kevin Bauman, junior tight end
No. 83 Jayden Thomas, sophomore receiver, former four-star recruit
No. 80 Cane Berrong, sophomore tight end coming off an ACL injury
No. 79 Tosh Baker, one of four young Irish offensive tackles
No. 78 Pat Coogan, sophomore center, recovering from a meniscus injury
No. 77 Ty Chan, incoming offensive tackle, former four-star recruit
No. 76 Joe Alt, sophomore starting left tackle
No. 75 Josh Lugg, sixth-year offensive lineman, likely starting right guard
No. 74 Billy Schrauth, early-enrolled freshman offensive guard coming off foot surgery
No. 73 Andrew Kristofic, senior offensive tackle-turned-guard
No. 72 Caleb Johnson, sophomore offensive tackle, former Auburn pledge
No. 68 Michael Carmody, junior offensive line utility man
No. 65 Michael Vinson, long snapper, ‘Milk’
No. 65 Chris Smith, defensive tackle, Harvard transfer
No. 59 Aamil Wagner, consensus four-star incoming freshman offensive tackle
No. 58 Ashton Craig, incoming freshman center
No. 57 Jayson Ademilola, fifth-year defensive tackle, coming off shoulder surgery
No. 56 Joey Tanona, early-enrolled offensive guard coming off a concussion
No. 56 Howard Cross, senior defensive tackle with heavy hands, and that’s a good thing
No. 55 Jarrett Patterson, fifth-year offensive lineman, three-year starting center, captain
No. 54 Jacob Lacey, senior defensive tackle, now lighter and a starter
No. 54 Blake Fisher, sophomore starting right tackle, ‘ginormous’
No. 52 Zeke Correll, senior center or perhaps left guard
No. 52 Bo Bauer, fifth-year linebacker, Ironman
No. 50 Rocco Spindler, sophomore offensive guard
No. 48 Will Schweitzer, sophomore end-turned-linebacker
No. 47 Jason Oyne, sophomore defensive end-turned-tackle
No. 44 Junior Tuihalamaka, early-enrolled freshman linebacker, consensus four-star recruit
No. 44 Alex Peitsch, junior long snapper
No. 42 Nolan Ziegler, early-enrolled freshman linebacker, Irish legacy
No. 41 Donovan Hinish, incoming freshman defensive tackle, Kurt’s brother
No. 40 Joshua Burnham, early-enrolled freshman linebacker-turned-end
No. 34 Osita Ekwonu, senior Vyper end coming off an Achilles injury
No. 31 NaNa Osafo-Mensah, senior defensive end
No. 29 Matt Salerno, fifth-year receiver, punt returner, former walk-on
No. 28 TaRiq Bracy, fifth-year starting nickel back
No. 27 JD Bertrand, senior linebacker recovering from a plaguing wrist injury
No. 25 Philip Riley, sophomore cornerback
No. 25 Chris Tyree, junior running back, possible Irish bellcow
No. 24 Jack Kiser, senior linebacker, second-year starter
No. 23 Jayden Bellamy, early-enrolled freshman cornerback
No. 22 Justin Walters, sophomore safety
No. 22 Logan Diggs, sophomore running back with a shoulder injury
No. 21 Jaden Mickey, early-enrolled freshman cornerback
No. 20 Jadarian Price, early-enrolled freshman running back with a ruptured Achilles
No. 20 Benjamin Morrison, freshman cornerback
No. 18 Chance Tucker, sophomore cornerback
No. 18 Steve Angeli, freshman QB, Blue-Gold Game star
No. 17 Jaylen Sneed, early-enrolled linebacker, Rover of the future
No. 16 Brandon Joseph, Northwestern transfer, preseason All-American, starting safety
No. 16 Deion Colzie, sophomore receiver
No. 15 Tobias Merriweather, freshman receiver, forever a memorable recruitment
No. 15 Ryan Barnes, sophomore cornerback
No. 14 Bryce McFerson, freshman punter facing a Harvard challenge
No. 13 Gi’Bran Payne, freshman running back, late recruit
No. 12 Tyler Buchner, sophomore starting QB
No. 12 Jordan Botelho, a defensive end-turned-linebacker
No. 11 Ron Powlus III, sophomore QB providing steadiness to a chaotic room
No. 9 Eli Raridon, incoming freshman tight end with a torn ACL