Flash forward to 2013, and Henson is Missouri’s offensive coordinator and preparing to face his alma mater in Friday’s AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic.
He just happens to credit much of his coaching success to lessons learned as a player at OSU from 1993-97 and tight ends coach from 2001-04.
“I’ve been around a lot of coaches that have had an impact, and I’ve just been fortunate in my career to be around a lot of great coaches, starting with Les Miles, who coached me in college and was my position coach and gave me a chance as a young guy to be full time at Oklahoma State,” Henson said.
Henson’s quick rise up the coaching ranks is also likely a tribute to his strong determination.
Henson was a walk-on at OSU trying to play tight end or linebacker.
Coaches told him he didn’t have the athleticism to play those positions, so he gained weight and moved to the offensive line.
By his senior season, he was a three-year starter and team co-captain.
“You almost have to believe in yourself to blind faith, because there’s a lot of things that are telling you can’t,” Henson said. “And they’re things that are pretty obvious even to you. But you have to say, ‘I’m going to work my way into becoming something other people think I can’t become.’
“Sometimes it’s a very strong motivator. I know it was for me.”
Henson said his coaching ability was influenced by Miles explaining all aspects of the game to Henson rather than limiting his coaching to offensive line specifics.
That coaching root is fitting seeing as Missouri quarterback James Frankln said Henson’s ability to communicate is what makes him a good coach.
“He really understands football and he talks with me to make sure I understand so when he calls the play, I can be thinking what he’s thinking,” Franklin said.
But Miles isn’t the only OSU coach who Henson learned from.
He said spending time with Mike Gundy in offensive meetings in the early 2000s also taught him plenty about how to build a powerful offense.
“He did a great job of setting up things to get big plays,” Henson said. “He loved getting big plays. He wanted to get the ball thrown down the field and force the defense to cover the deep part of the field. That was something I learned for him.”
Now as Henson prepares to take on his old school and mentor, he has a challenge waiting in the form of the OSU defense. The Pokes’ athletic front seven and ballhawking secondary presents a formidable opponent for which Henson has much respect.
“They play very hard. They swarm the ball,” Henson said. “At the end of the day, they make you work for everything you get. They make you execute all the way down the field to get your yards and get your scores.”
And despite Henson’s ties to OSU, his goal Friday night is for his team to score in large numbers.
“Do I have special feelings toward Oklahoma State?” Henson said. “Sure I do. It’s where I played and the team I grew up loving. But at the end of the day, we’re certainly looking forward to going and doing our best to win this game Friday night.”