Hunter Henry got a small taste of what he’d been missing as he appeared in 14 snaps Sunday against the New England Patriots.
It left him hungry for more.
In fact, it has him already salivating about the 2019 season.
“It was definitely just good to be able to get back out there,” he said. “I think that’s huge for going into next year. It’s huge. Like I said, it’s huge going into next year. I worked hard to get back to that moment and so, I’m ready to work extra hard this offseason to get ready to go for next year.”
If that wasn’t enough, managing to make it back onto the field after such a grueling rehab process only to see the team’s season come to an abrupt end motivates him that much more.
“You work so hard to get to that (point and return) thinking we have three more games to go, and then to have it all fall apart like that, it definitely is going to drive me,” he said. “It was a lot of hard work to get back to that moment. Outcome’s obviously not what you want, but if people could see what all goes into just what it takes to get back onto the field at all, it’s a lot and it’s a lot of hard work. It was cool and it’s good for me just going into next year, knowing I could get back out there yesterday and do that.”
Henry missed the entire regular season and Wild Card win over the Baltimore Ravens after tearing his ACL on the first day of OTAs in May. In addition, the top-notch tight end sat out the final two games of the 2017 campaign after suffering a lacerated kidney in Week 15 that year.
Basically, Sunday’s 14 snaps marked his first action in 57 weeks and three days, so it’s no wonder why he’s already eager for next season.
What’s even more encouraging is how his knee felt physically after the game.
“I felt good,” he said. “I felt really good actually. I mean, I wasn’t my full self probably, to where I would like to be, but I still felt good enough and felt real good out there. It was good to be back out there rolling.”
Still, while Henry’s eager to get started on 2019, that doesn’t mean he isn’t looking forward to some rest and relaxation in the coming weeks.
More to the point, he’s eager for a mental break.
As hard as rehab can be on the body, many who go through the process explain it’s even harder on your psyche. To that point, Henry noted how much he’s grown as a person from the trying experience.
“I learned a lot of mental toughness,” he explained. “I think it’s just sitting there watching, you learn a lot about yourself. I grew a lot as a person. I grew a lot in my faith. I grew a lot as a teammate (and) as a friend. It’s different when you’re not being able to play, and you’re on the sidelines and you’re just kind of there. You become more of an encourager. You try to be more positive, lifting dudes up and also kind of have more sympathy now for guys that are hurt. Before, I never really had to go through an injury like this, but now that I’ve been through it, I look at all that differently.”
There’s something else Henry learned…just how beloved he is.
The 24-year-old always knew the fans were behind him, but he never imagined the extent of it until he saw their level of support this season.
“It means a lot that they would (support me like this),” he said, “It helped push me to want to come back and play. It was a long year (and) it’s going to drive me all offseason to continue to work and work. To take it back out there for them. I wanted (to come back this season) for myself, but also for them. It means a lot.”