This is the moment Hunter Henry has worked so hard for.
It’s what got him through those tough days at rehab and dark days at home, which he admitted overwhelmed him early on.
Ever since suffering an ACL injury in May, he has envisioned himself back on the field.
“Don’t be surprised to see him work his way back in,” Head Coach Anthony Lynn told the media a couple hours before practice. “He may do some things on the side this week. He may start that as early as today.”
Sure enough, Henry was back on the field with his teammates at Hoag Performance Center on Monday, practicing for the first time since the first day of OTAs.
While it’s a big step in the right direction, it doesn’t necessarily mean that third-year pro will play in a game this season.
The tight end remains on the Physically Unable to Perform list and does not count against the 53-man roster. However, there is now a 21-day window in which he’ll either be activated or miss the remainder of the 2018 campaign.
Nonetheless, Henry couldn’t be happier than he was on Monday.
The 24-year-old loves football as much as anyone in the NFL, and he’s been around the team 24/7 despite the injury. Still, it’s eaten him up inside to stand on the sidelines, watching all the team’s success while being unable to be a part of it.
At the same time, it’s been a key motivational factor.
“That's what pushed me the whole time,” he explained. “I tried to stay around as much as I could to kind of feed off that from a rehab (perspective).”
Returning from an ACL injury can be an arduous process, so coming back from it this season was considered a long shot. However, it’s not uncommon. In fact, Melvin Ingram returned in a similar situation back in 2013, joining the Bolts in December after tearing his ACL during OTAs.
While it’s still unknown if Henry will actually suit up this season, he’s not shocked that he’s at least returned to practice.
“I'm not surprised,” he said. “I had (being back) in my mind, and tried to push for that since the get-go. I worked as hard as I could, and there's a lot of work still to do to get back out there.... It’ll be different but good to get back in the flow of things. I'm geared up and ready to go, but it's a long journey, and it's cool to have an opportunity like this.”
Finally, the tight end stressed that neither he nor the team will do anything to put his long-term health in jeopardy.
When the 21-day window closes, he’ll either be fully ready or he won’t.
Henry is prepared for either scenario, yet he knows how special it would be to join a Chargers team tied atop the AFC standings.
“You got to think about (it long term),” he said. “If I feel good, I'm going to give it my best shot. You don't get a team like this a lot. I've already seen that in just two years of being here, so you have to take advantage of trying to get back out there.”