During his first NFL training camp, Hunter Henry described the experience as being the "new kid in school again". Fast-forward seven months and the tight end found himself on Monday cleaning out his locker on the team's proverbial last day of school. He took a moment to reflect on his rookie season.
"There were a lot of ups and downs, like a rollercoaster ride," Henry said. "There was a lot of learning, but I'm looking forward to taking everything this year and the experience that I got and really attacking the offseason trying to get better."
Though he battled through sporadic injuries, Henry finished his 2016 campaign with 36 receptions for 478 yards and eight touchdowns. His eight TDs were tied for the most by a tight end on the season and were the ninth most in the entire NFL.
"I think I proved I can play at this level. I played at a high level."
Learning from a future Hall of Fame tight end in Antonio Gates, Henry admitted he soaked in a lot of knowledge throughout his first pro season. If he could go back in time and give his post-draft self one piece of advice, it would be to not get caught up in the magnitude of being a professional. Instead, focus on why he pursued football as a career; his love of the game.
"There's going to be a lot thrown at you," he'd tell himself. "Relax, slow down (and remember) that it's still football. I think there's so much going on, so much media and so much with the NFL that it seems like it's this big, crazy (world) but it's just football. Guys are good and everybody is really good, but still it comes down to the fact that it's what you've been playing since you were little. So just go out there, play and have fun. You need to strip down the bigness of it and remember really what it is. It's a game that you've played since you were little so it's a lot of fun."
As for what's in store for Henry now that the season's over?
He's ready to put as much work as he can this offseason to prepare for his sophomore campaign. Henry's more focused than ever to right the ship with his teammates to put together a winning season in 2017.
"We need to win. That should be our main priority. We need to find ways to finish and win next year. I'm looking forward to coming back even stronger next year and just continue to prove that I can be one of the best in this league. That'll be fun and I'm ready to get to work."