By Blake Ells
Spain Park’s Jalen Henderson stepped into a much larger role this season following the departure of D’Arie Johnson. In week one, the senior rolled up 172 yards on 31 carries and two touchdowns as the Jaguars defeated then 6A’s seventh-ranked Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa 24-14.
The Jaguars expected to split some of Henderson’s carries with Manny Austin and Micheal Callens, but both suffered injuries. The Jaguars then relied on Marcellus Payne to spell Henderson, but depth is no longer a luxury, forcing him to shoulder a larger work load.
“I was expecting to get 20 or so carries, but after they scored to make it 24-14 late, they asked me to get back in and end the game,” said Henderson.
His was just one skill position that lost a senior. Mason Pronk stepped into the starting quarterback role after the departure of Braxton Barker. Pronk finished the season opener 13-of-19 for 108 yards, adding 16 carries for 61 yards and a touchdown on the ground.
Wide receivers Kenyon Hines and Kameron McDaniel also stepped into bigger roles, giving Pronk reliable targets. Hines caught three passes for 53 yards, while McDaniel had 46 yards on eight receptions.
“I felt good about how Mason approached the game,” Henderson said. “I’ve been playing with him since freshman year and I always knew he could do it.”
After a trip to Bessemer City, the Jaguars turn their attention to 7A Region 3 play. They’ll host Vestavia Hills, travel to Mountain Brook and host Hewitt-Trussville before welcoming a mid-season bye. October will see trips to Thompson and Oak Mountain and home games against Hoover and Tuscaloosa County.
With a stretch of games so grueling, it’d be easy to lose focus in those early season out-of-region matchups. But Henderson assures that the Jaguars remain focused.
“We like to focus on whatever game we have next,” Henderson said. “We don’t like to look ahead because it’d be easy to get carried away.”
“We had a good game,” said Henderson. “But we can get a lot better. The run game was good, and our pass protection improved throughout the game. Our defense got better at getting three-and-outs and getting us back on the field quickly.”