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Cotton Bowl: Josh Henson has always had an offensive coordinator's mind

COMMENTARY — Missouri assistant's journey started at Tuttle, wound through Stillwater and landed him in the job he'd been preparing for all his life.
by Jenni Carlson Published: December 31, 2013


photo - Missouri offensive coordinator Josh Henson talks to reporters during an NCAA college football news conference Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2013, in Irving, Texas. Missouri will play Oklahoma State in the Cotton Bowl on Friday.  (AP Photo/Tim Sharp)
Missouri offensive coordinator Josh Henson talks to reporters during an NCAA college football news conference Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2013, in Irving, Texas. Missouri will play Oklahoma State in the Cotton Bowl on Friday. (AP Photo/Tim Sharp)

ARLINGTON, Texas — Josh Henson doodled like most kids when he was in elementary school.

What he drew, though, was unique.

“When I was bored in class,” he said, “I sat there and drew up football plays.”

Back home in Tuttle, his mom and dad still have notebooks full of those early doodles.

“I need to go back and look at some of them maybe,” said Henson, now the offensive coordinator at Missouri.

He chuckled.

“I didn't know anything then.”

Even though his understanding of offenses wasn't nearly what it is now, Henson knew even as a child that he loved the strategy of the game. He thought about schemes all the time. He mused about football at every opportunity.

Now, Henson is getting a chance to live out that passion.

In his first season as an offensive coordinator, he helped Missouri to a big-time turnaround that brought it within a quarter of playing for the national title. Friday night, the Tigers hope to put an exclamation mark on this season with a win against Oklahoma State in the Cotton Bowl.

OSU happens to be Henson's alma mater, the team he cheered as a boy, the place where he got his first job as a college coach.

Henson has told his OSU-season-ticket-holding family to go ahead and cheer for the Cowboys.

Not a chance.

“Blood being thicker than water,” his dad said, “I'm going to have to root for Missouri.”

The road to this wild intersection took Henson to Stillwater for more than a decade, then to the Louisiana bayou and eventually to the middle of Missouri. But even as the 38-year-old's journey wound around the college football world, Josh Henson's roots always reached back to the passion he developed in his hometown of Tuttle.

He's where he is because of where he started.

***

Rick and Mary Henson decided that if they were going to have kids, they wanted them to be raised in Tuttle.

Having grown up in the area, they knew many of the teachers, men and women who had the same values they did. Work hard Monday through Saturday. Go to church Sunday. Do right every day.

So, Rick and Mary returned to Tuttle.

And when they had Josh, the first of four children, Rick and Mary realized what a perfect fit the sport-crazy town just southwest of Oklahoma City would be for their son.

“Within two or three years, if you couldn't catch it or kick it or throw it,” Rick said, “he didn't want to fool with it.”

And once the father explained football formations and schemes, the son was captivated. If there was a scrap of paper lying around the Henson house, it had one of Josh's plays scribbled on it.

Rick and Mary once replaced some end tables that they'd had for years in their living room, and when they turned them over to throw them away, they found plays drawn on the underside.

Lying on his back under those tables, Josh had apparently realized he had a blank canvas and did what he always did — he doodled plays.

But it took a little encouragement to turn passion into action.

Even though Josh's parents always told him that he could be whatever he wanted to be if he worked hard enough — they modeled that work ethic, Rick as a firefighter and Mary as a super-involved, stay-at-home mom — it wasn't until the summer before Josh's freshman year of high school that he realized the work he had to put into football.

Tuttle football coach Phil Koons had seen potential in Josh and told him as much. Josh bought in and started going to Koons' 6 a.m. weight lifting sessions. But then after a late night spent on the phone — Henson jokes now that he was probably talking to his girlfriend — he decided not to go to weights the next morning.

His phone rang at 6:05.

In no uncertain terms, Koons let him know that missing weights wasn't an option.

“After that conversation,” Josh said, “I didn't ever miss again.”

Koons pushed and cajoled and taught and inspired.

“I really think without Coach Koons, I wouldn't be where I am today,” Josh said. “I firmly believe that.”

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by Jenni Carlson
Columnist
Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football...
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