As time has gone on in Trey Hendrickson’s career, the Cincinnati Bengals NFL-All Pro defensive end from Apopka hasn’t forgotten his roots or what made him.
The 6-foot-4, 270-pound sack machine — he had 17.5 this season — will be returning to the place of one of his greatest achievements this weekend at the NFL Pro Bowl Games at Camping World Stadium on Sunday at 3 p.m.
“First and foremost, before anything and everything, I just want to glorify God. Everything I am I could not do without my Lord and savior Jesus Christ,” Hendrickson said Friday. “I want that to be a part of my walk in football and my walk in faith with my wife [Alisa] and everything I am and everything I do is to honor him.
“And then to be in my hometown and to be born and raised in Apopka … and playing on a really special state championship team. For it to come full circle, it’s pretty special.”
Yes, that state championship game — a 53-50 win over Cypress Bay in 2012 — was played at what was then called the Florida Citrus Bowl, and Hendrickson played a big role. Coach Rick Darlington, who now coaches at DeLand, remembers it well.
“We were fourth-and-8 with about two minutes left on the 15-yard line going in,” said Darlington, whose son Zack was the quarterback, on Friday. “I called time out and brought them to the sideline and said, ‘OK, here’s what we’re going to do.’ We had a play where Zack would roll out and Trey would block down and fall down and crawl and then get up and run to the other side of the field … and we’d throw the ball back across the field to Trey and we’d win the state championship.
“So I’ve got this play and Trey’s going to be the hero. … Well, they all looked at me like I had three heads. So, I said, ‘Or we can run the sweep’ and they all said, ‘Yeah, run the sweep.’ … Trey Hendrickson was the one who said, ‘Run the sweep.’ And you know who made the key block … Trey Hendrickson. He threw the lead block in relative anonymity and we end up winning the state championship.”
Hendrickson said for him it was a no-brainer.
“It’s something where you can either play for yourself or you can play for your brothers next to you,” Hendrickson said. “I knew if I could make the lead block, then [Jevric] Blocker would make it happen. … It was a special moment. … It’s a blessing that [Darlington] got to see that side of me in the state championship game.”
Darlington played a huge role in sculpting a young Hendrickson into the man he is today, as did his father and mother, Collie and Louise Hendrickson, celebrating 32 years of marriage this year.
“I think [Darlington] instilled a lot of good things, like a good name is more desirable than great riches, and favor is better than silver and gold,” said Hendrickson, making a Biblical reference. “I also know that carrying not only my dad’s name, but being the third I also carry my grandfather’s name and for the Hendrickson’s that are also to come, I carry their names … so that hits home.
“Coach D also made great points that at any level of football, it’s special to play with a group of guys and give it your all and know that when you look to your left and look to your right you’re playing for those guys, and not necessarily playing for yourself.”
Darlington has always taught selflessness and brotherhood to all of his players and it especially rang true for Hendrickson.
“Trey, as a young man, he fought a lot of things … he had a lot of battles,” Darlington said. “But the Lord has changed him. He’s a different guy and I’m really, really proud of him.”
Hendrickson missed Friday’s AFC portion of Pro Bowl practice to deal with a personal matter, but Darlington laughed about his absence.
“Why would Trey go to flag football practice?” he said.
Hendrickson entered college at Florida Atlantic as a little-known tight end who had played mostly defensive end in high school until the latter part of his senior season, and his two touchdown catches in the state semifinals against Dr. Phillips were key to the Darters moving on that season. FAU is where he began his ascent to great things as an edge rusher.
In six-and-a-half seasons — he only played five games in 2018 — Hendrickson has 59.5 sacks, an even more impressive number when considering that 53 came in the last four seasons. That’s an average of 13 sacks, and he’s just getting better with every year with this past NFL season being his most productive.
“At this point in my career, it’s special to be playing in three consecutive Pro Bowls, it’s special to be playing in the National Football League,” Hendrickson said. “It’s just special to play football for over 15 years and be able to live out a dream that I had as a kid.”
He runs into numerous former Central Florida high school standouts now playing in the NFL. He had a big sack earlier this season against former Hagerty star Jeff Driskel, now with the Cleveland Browns. Hendrickson is quite familiar with him after being roommates with his brother, Jason, who played quarterback at FAU.
“Jeff was like the older brother always and he’s a great dude. … Being from Central Florida is pretty cool and we have the same agent, so it was a cool experience to be able to take him to the ground,” Hendrickson said.
He cherishes coming back to Orlando to share a special moment in his hometown with mom and dad and many family members and friends in the stands at Camping World Stadium.
“They get excited about what I do and it’s just a blessing,” he said, “and being able to play in the same place where we won a state championship will always mean something to me.”
Chris Hays covers high school and college football, as well as college football recruiting. He can be found on X @OS_ChrisHays and on Instagram @OS_ChrisHays. He can be reached vis email at email@example.com.