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Vidalia’s Wayward Son Heads to Kansas

By Barry Every
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One of the hottest football prospects from South Georgia had little fanfare coming out of high school.

One of the hottest football prospects from South Georgia had little fanfare coming out of high school. He was overshadowed by his own teammate, 4-Star linebacker Nate McBride, who signed with the Georgia Bulldogs in the class of 2017.

Coach Lee Chomskis led the 2016 Vidalia (Ga.) Indian squad to a (9-3/6-1) mark in 2016, with its lone region loss coming at the hands of eventual GHSA-AA State Champions Savannah (Ga.) Benedictine. The player that dominated on both sides of the ball all year long wasn’t McBride, but two-way standout Lakia Henry.

The 6-foot-1, 220-pound Henry racked up 95 tackles, nine TFL’s, five sacks and two fumble recoveries. He also carried the rock 125 times for 909 yards and 12 touchdowns and proved to be an adept target out of the backfield catching five passes for 103 yards.

Size and statistics alone should have attracted numerous college offers, but no one contacted this gridiron beast due to academic pitfalls. Not a single Southeastern junior college came knocking, leaving Henry one of the most kept secrets in Peach State.

“Lakia, never came off the field for us in 2016, he had a bigger impact on our team than any other player,” Chomskis said. “I always felt he was a DI player and as good a prospect as Nate McBride. This kid is not athletically lazy and it’s not an intellectual issue either, he just needs to be in a very structured environment in the classroom.”

Henry was also a track star of the Indians. As a junior he ran the first leg of the State Championship 4x100-meter team, but unfortunately was academically ineligible to run track his senior year. His academic misgivings most likely cost Vidalia the Team Championship in 2017.

With the help of Defensive Coordinator Rodney Garvin, now the head coach at Metter (Ga.), Henry would eventually find a place to call home. That new home would end being 1,278-miles from Vidalia, Georgia in a small city known more for its Western folklore than football.

Garvin would end up contacting Dodge City Community College linebacker coach Michael Starkey. Starkey fell in love with Henry’s athletic ability and offered the young man a scholarship and a second chance of living out his dream of eventually playing college football at the highest level.

“He comes from a humble place, with a mom that supports the entire family,” Chomskis said. “I’ll say it again; Henry is an athletically gifted and a hard worker on the field. He single handedly helped us beat Augusta (Ga.) Laney in the playoffs his senior season, just go back and watch the film.”

Every school that recruited McBride inquired about Henry, but nothing could be done. Georgia and Ole Miss showed the most interest but were unwilling to sign and place him in a junior college.

“He has the size and strength to take on offensive tackles and he can flat out run,” Chomskis said. He has the speed to chase down wide receivers and running backs. Lakia has the ability to play on Sunday’s one day.”

Unfortunately the days that size and athleticism alone guarantee success in the college arena is over. Young athletes hoping to play football after high school need to remember one thing; the word college is before the word football.

So Henry headed to his own Last Chance University, with the hopes of eventually becoming FBS eligible. But his quest won’t be easy in a place made famous by outrageous lawmen and gunslingers such as Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday and Bat Masterson.

Dodge City, population 27,453, is extremely isolated from any metropolitan area, lying 151 due west of Wichita. One saving grace is the fact that Henry is from a small city that is also secluded from the bright lights of urban life.

Conquistador Head Coach Gary Thomas knows a thing or two about linebackers. In the 247Sports 2017 Composite JUCO Player Rankings, Dodge City produced the #1 ILB and OLB in the country. Gary Johnson would end up signing with Texas and Marquis Blair with Utah.

“We had no choice but to replace those guys,” Thomas said. “Lakia plays a lot like Johnson with that ability to go sideline to sideline; He can flat out run and that’s what every college coach is looking for at the FBS level.”

In 11 games as a true freshman Henry led the Conquistadors with 110 tackles; He also led the team in TFL’s with 13 while recording 2.5 sacks and one INT. His performance did not go unnoticed attracting offers from Alabama, Arizona State, Iowa State, Kentucky, Nebraska, Ole Miss, Syracuse, Tennessee, Texas and Texas A&M. Henry is currently the #1 ranked ILB in the class of 2019, according to 247 Sports.

“The hardest thing for me was how fast the game was played here in the Kansas Jayhawk Community College Conference, I mean it’s insanely fast,” Henry said. “This is the closest I’ll get to playing at the FBS level, without actually playing in it. It’s simply tough competition.”

One school Henry would like to hear more from is the home state Georgia Bulldogs.

“I know they know about me, but I don’t know if they will ever pull the trigger.” Henry said. Right now Tennessee, Texas and Texas A&M are recruiting me the hardest. Defensive coordinator Todd Orlando of Texas really stands out to me. We have a really good relationship and Coach Orlando text’s me almost every day.”

Things are going great on the gridiron for the Vidalia native, but how has he adjusted to the move west? Let’s face it Vidalia and Dodge City may be similar in size, but that’s about it.

“I think I have handled the transition of moving out here well,” Henry said. “We have a small bowling alley and a mall, but my family has yet to visit or see me play. I hope my mom can make it out this upcoming season. I will say this, the weather is a lot worse out hear at times, it can start snowing out of nowhere.”

With all those prestigious offers Henry still has work to do to become academically qualified and he hopes to graduate mid-semester later this year. He is still not a finished product on the football field either with work still to be done.

“In our defense guys don’t always look like the cookie-cutter linebackers,” Thomas said. “They have to be able to run in our defense and are in man coverage a lot. Henry still has things to work on, but from an athletic point of view he is a lot like the ones that played here before him.”

Even Henry admits work is still to be done in order to become that complete player at the next level.

“I have to sharpen up reading my keys, that’s the biggest difference from making the move from defensive end to linebacker,” Henry said. “I can’t get distracted; there are plays that are designed to get you looking the wrong way, so working on my pre-snap reads is important. I feel good about getting off blocks and chasing down wide receiver and running backs, but sniffing out the play beforehand would sure help.”

I think both head coaches put it best describing Henry as a charismatic person that is always smiling. He has the athletic talent and the energy to light up a room. How hard he hits the academic curriculum will end up being the biggest hurdle he may face in reaching his ultimate goal of playing college football on the biggest stage.

Linebacker Coach Michael Starkey and his girlfriend Christy Ohlschwager host Henry every Sunday. The sole purpose of that visit is homework. If Henry can break old habits and hunker down on his studies not only will we see him play DI football, but we may see him doing something else on future Sundays.