My name is Mark Henry, and I was born and raised here in Little Rock. I graduated from high school from Little Rock Central High School, and had the opportunity to play on a state championship team. I went on to play college football for the Razorbacks at the University of Arkansas, where I played on two championship teams and received all-conference honors. After college, I received my Master of Divinity at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Chicago, IL. I now serve as a teaching pastor at Fellowship Bible Church in Little Rock. I married Jenny Henry, from Little Rock in 1991. She graduated from Hall High School in Little Rock, and also attended the University of Arkansas. We have four beautiful children, Hunter is a sophomore at the University of Arkansas; Hayden is at sophomore at Pulaski Academy; Hudson is in 8th grade at Pulaski Academy; and Hope is a 5th grader at Pulaski Academy.
When did Hunter first start playing football and how did he get involved?
Hunter began playing football in Kindergarten in the suburbs of Atlanta, GA, where we lived at the time. Most kids there began playing tackle football from the time they start school. Hunter was so ready to start playing, and that year he played quarterback, believe it or not. He had been playing in the yard from the time he could walk and couldn’t wait to finally be on a real team.
If he started young, how did you feel as a parent in regards to potential injuries, etc?
We never really worried too much about injuries. He has been blessed, thus far, to never have had any serious injuries. We have always prayed over his seasons, as we have all of our kids. We pray for God to have His hand of protection over them.
Have there ever been any setbacks in his football career?
When Hunter was in second grade, he started playing tight end. Then in grades 6, 7 and 8 he played just about every position on the team. He played on some pretty bad teams throughout middle school, and they didn’t when many games. This is when we still lived in the Atlanta area. He also played basketball at the time, and played on a competitive AAU team that traveled. It was the sport that he loved most at the time. He had a wonderful coach that was a great mentor and really instilled in him a love of the game. So, in 8th grade, as he was thinking about high school, he contemplated quitting football. The high school he would be attending the following year in Georgia did not have the best football team. They were a great basketball school. This was in the spring of 2009, and it was then that we really felt God moving us back to Little Rock. With that move, we enrolled him at Pulaski Academy, and he began playing football that summer. Coach Kelley began instilling in him a love of football again, and the rest they say is history.
When did he first realize he wanted to play collegiate football?
As a small kid, he always talked about playing college football someday, and that being a dream of his. I think most kids that play sports say that at one time or another. He also loved the Razorbacks growing up and said playing for the Razorbacks would be a dream come true. Then with his success at football in high school at PA he realized his dream might become a reality.
He got his first offer in 10th grade from Arkansas State. Then in the spring that year came his first SEC offer to Auburn. It snowballed from there.
We really encouraged him a lot during the recruiting process. We really tried to help guide him through the entire process because it can be very overwhelming. We told him to look at every opportunity and think long and hard about making a decision. He had to look at the entire picture of the school from coaches, players, school, etc. We took him all over the SEC to visit schools as well as Oklahoma, Miami, and Stanford. It was an incredible experience. He narrowed it down in the end to Arkansas, Alabama, Georgia, Stanford, Oklahoma and Vanderbilt. In the end it was very hard to make his final decision. Arkansas was in such turmoil, and at the time didn’t know who their coach was even going to be. I remember being at the beach that summer and sitting out one day with Hunter talking through all his schools. He was evaluating all of them, and he said, “You know I keep thinking to myself that I could go to Alabama or Georgia and put on that uniform and play, but in my heart and underneath it all, I’m a Razorback!” It was then that he knew no matter what, Arkansas was where he wanted to be.
How have you influenced him as parents to play?
We let Hunter play any sport he wanted to, and he played basketball, football and baseball. He loved whatever he was playing at the time. As a parent, we’ve always guided him and directed him. We have told him that God has given him this talent, and it’s something he can use as a platform to tell others about Jesus. We have always done a lot also to keep him humble, reminding him always that he was playing for an audience of one. This is just his opportunity to let Christ shine through him.
Through the recruiting process, we guided him tremendously. As I said earlier, it can be a very overwhelming experience. We continually tried to keep him grounded throughout the whole process. He had over 30 offers and schools calling him, emailing him, writing him, and texting him constantly. It can make anyone have an ego, and we wanted to help him fight against that. As I watch other kids go through this process, I can see how kids commit to schools and de-commit so easily. It is very easy to get caught up in the emotional high of it all, especially on a school visit. We told Hunter that he could never commit to a school on a visit. I am very glad we did because honestly he probably could have committed to every school he visited! We communicated to him that he always needed to come home and get away from it all and sit in it before weighing the pros and cons.
What was it like raising a football “star”?
He has been a pretty easy kid to rise. He has always been very humble and never makes the focus about his success. He has always been about the team and making the team better, not himself.
The hardest thing at times has not been about anything Hunter has specifically done but people around Hunter. The focus on him everywhere we went was tremendous. It became hard on our other children. They are so extremely proud of him and love him so much, but it became the topic of conversation with everyone everywhere. We made a real effort not to talk about it at home around them so it didn’t dominate our family time. People were and are so enamored with Hunter and sometimes I know it makes our other kids feel invisible, and they want their own identity. Hunter, himself, has been great about it not being all about him. When people come up and want to meet him, we always make an effort to introduce our other kids as well. Overall, they handle it all very well, but it can be hard sometimes.
What values did you think were most important that contributed to his success?
Hunter knows that God has given him his talent and success, and he loves and wants to follow Him with all of who he is. He also has a strong character of humility, perseverance and endurance that has guided him in all he has done.
Anything else you want to share?
Throughout the recruiting process we met some incredible people and experienced some amazing things that we all will never forget. We have some great stories that we continue to tell. One such story I will share, and it is priceless. Hunter was invited to attend Alabama’s select junior day in January of 2012. I went with him and took our youngest son, Hudson. While there, they served us breakfast, and it was Hudson’s very favorite, Chick-Fil-A chicken biscuits. Hudson was 11 at the time, and he has always loved to eat. He was so excited that they were allowing him to have all you can eat biscuits. He began eating biscuit after biscuit, and then he stuffed a couple of more in his pockets for later. We had a whole morning filled with tours of the campus, athletic facilities, etc. Then later on was a one on one time with Coach Saban. The three of us walked in for Hunter’s meeting with Nick Saban, and he began laying his plan out for how he would use Hunter on his team. We were there for about 45 min to an hour. Towards the end of the meeting Coach Saban was wrapping it all up and looked over at Hudson, and he was sound asleep in the chair! He said, he had never had that happen to him before, and said he must have bored him to sleep! It was very funny moment, and one we talk about all the time in our family.