The Mighty A has one of his own returning to lead the seventh and eighth grade football program at Alexander Junior High.
School alumnus Ephraim “EJ” Henderson will begin his first year as the school’s head football coach when classes begin on Thursday.
Henderson graduated in 2011 from Brookhaven High where he played on the football and baseball teams. He signed to play both sports at Alabama State University before finally focusing on football, where he served three years at ASU as an off.
Twice previously in his career, Henderson worked as a teacher at Alexander while coaching at Brookhaven High. He takes over at AJH from former head coach Tommy Gibbs, who left to join the college coaching staff at Brookhaven High for coach Tucker Peavey.
“We want to make sure our children are fundamentally healthy when they leave Alexander and move on to Brookhaven High,” Henderson said. “The goal is for them to understand and learn the game, not just to be good at it. We want to teach them how to block, tackle and be good teammates.
Henderson learned all of this himself under the tutelage of legendary Alexander head football coach Jesse Terrell.
Henderson first worked at the BHS in 2016 under then head coach Tommy Clopton as wide receiver coach. From there, he returned to Alabama at the high school level as a wide receiver coach and head baseball coach at Lee High in Montgomery, Alabama.
Lee, a 7A program, made the state semifinals in 2017 with Henderson as a staff member.
In 2019, Henderson returned to Brookhaven as a high school assistant coach for Peavey and the Panthers. He served as head baseball coach at Alexander during his two previous stints at the school.
The opportunity to coach at the college level is what called Henderson away from Brookhaven High in 2021.
He was first hired at Illinois College in Jacksonville, Illinois. The Panthers are a Division III program, and Henderson jumped up the Division III ladder before he even coached a game at Illinois College.
“I was at Illinois College and I had been coaching there in the spring and I started recruiting and my head coach sent me to work at a camp at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater,” Henderson said. . “I was running a wide receiver drill during camp and UW-W head coach Kevin Bullis called me and asked if I wanted to come work for him.”
The Whitewater Warhawks are NCAA Division III University of Alabama football. The team has a combined all-time postseason record of 51-9, has won 36 Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC) conference titles, and claims six Division II national championships.
Henderson did not stay long at Whitewater, as one of the new staff coaches came from the University of Minnesota-Duluth. He recommended Henderson for a job on the staff he was leaving, and Henderson took the opportunity to become a secondary coach at Minnesota-Duluth, a Division II program.
The 2021 season at Duluth was memorable as the Bulldogs finished 9-3 and advanced to the NCAA playoffs, where they lost in the first round at Angelo State in November.
“We left Minnesota and there was snow piled on the ground when we got on the plane,” Henderson said. “Our guys were all in cold weather gear and layers and we got to Texas and it was in the upper 80s when we got off the plane. It was a shock to their system.
Henderson returned home after the 2021 season in Duluth to find employment closer to his family. Coaching college football in the Midwest has been a learning experience, but there’s unparalleled value in being close to the people who know you best.
“My mom had health issues and my sister was helping her, but I couldn’t be much help when I was so far away,” Henderson said. “I just knew that I wanted to come back somewhere here, but I never imagined that I would have a chance like this to be the head coach of the AJH.”
Alexander manager Patrick Hardy, who coached Henderson at Brookhaven High, extended the job offer and the new head coach has taken the lead in preparation for the 2022 season.
Its coaching staff will include teachers Alexander Russ Britt, Kwinsi Bridges and Tony Gibbs.
“Football can be a way to keep kids engaged coming to school,” Henderson said. “My eyes were really opened to this when I was a high school coach in Alabama. I saw kids who literally came from nothing, they lived in deep poverty, but for them, football was part of what got them up every day and got them on the bus. They cherished the opportunity to play the game.”
Henderson’s first team will take to the pitch on August 29 when you play Wesson for the season opener.
AJH will play three home games on King Field at Brookhaven High on September 12 against McComb, October 3 against Lawrence County and October 17 against Tylertown. The Panthers will play on the road Sept. 19 at Franklin County, Sept. 26 at North Pike and Oct. 10 at South Pike Middle School.