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1,000 Words: On Malik Henry, David Cornwell and low risk, high reward

Malik Henry
Malik Henry is joining the Nevada football program. (Last Chance U photo)

Nevada Sports Net columnist Chris Murray is known to be a bit wordy, so we're giving him 1,000 words (but no more than that) to share his thoughts from the week that was in the world of sports.

* I WATCHED THIS SEASON’S “Last Chance U” – because Winnemucca’s Kerry Buckmaster was a featured player – and my first impression of Malik Henry, the quarterback of the Kansas JuCo team being featured, was not a good one. In fact, I thought, “Whichever program signs this kid is a stupid.” I wasn’t the only one. Despite his tantalizing potential – he was a top-50 prospect coming out of high school by each of the major recruiting services – it was pretty clear Henry was an issue. He feuded with coaches, players and refs. He was the opposite of coachable. He was stubborn. Tying your program to Henry seemed like an obviously dumb move for any FBS program. So, no FBS team signed him after that 2017 season in Kansas.

* ON TUESDAY’S EPISODE OF NSN Daily, Wolf Pack football coach Jay Norvell announced Henry will play for Nevada in 2019. My first reaction to that? Good move. So, why the sudden change? It’s because he’s walking on and not being treated as a program savior (the way Alabama transfer David Cornwell was marketed heading into the 2017 season). If Henry is a problem in spring camp, Nevada can cut him. If his attitude is poor in fall camp, he’s gone. If he’s not adhering to Norvell’s rules, see ya. Henry is at the bottom of the pile, the walk-on in Nevada’s six-player quarterback competition. It’s not a no-risk proposition. Henry has some baggage. But it’s a low-risk, high-reward move that could pay off big.

* WE SHOULD NOTE Henry has never been in any known legal trouble. He’s not a bad kid from that perspective. He was portrayed – and we say “portrayed” because you never know how Netflix is editing the “Last Chance U” documentary – as a malcontent (he rarely smiled), a know-it-all (he tried to call his own plays in the first game) and a buzz-kill (he was an energy sucker). He seemed to have little interest in getting the most out of his talent. His head coach, Jason Brown, who was highly flammable, which didn’t help get the best out of Henry, said the quarterback was “f***ing borderline being kicked out any minute.” Henry drove quarterback coach Frank Diaz to near insanity.

* HENRY ALSO WAS suspended at his first college (Florida State) and dismissed from IMG Academy. Nevada is his seventh school in eight seasons (four high schools, one JC, two FBS schools), so the odds this works out might be small. But not everybody matures at the same rate. A kid's story is not done by age 21. Given Henry's talent, he deserves this chance, which is most likely his last, with Norvell saying the quarterback “probably has one last shot to get his career corrected and we’re going to give that.” That reality could get the most out of Henry, who’ll be on a short leash. “He is coming as a walk-on, which means he has a lot to prove,” Norvell said.

* AS MUCH AS HENRY HAS to prove off the field, he also has a lot to prove on it. Henry has ideal size (6-4/185), arm strength and mobility, but his numbers haven’t always been great. At Independence, his last football stop, Henry completed just 52.4 percent of his passes with as many interceptions (11) as touchdowns (11). Even in high school, he completed just 55.6 percent of his passes, so accuracy has been an issue. But Nevada doesn’t get this kind of raw talent all that often, and with only two years of college left Henry should be focused on getting those most out of that talent. While some of his warts were shown on Last Chance U, Henry did have some likeable traits and players seemed to gravitate to him.

* THE LAST TIME NEVADA GOT a big-name quarterback it was Cornwell, who was marketed like the future of the program and put on media guides and in-stadium signage. Then he lost the starting quarterback job in fall camp and watched two other quarterbacks get starts before he finally got on the field against Washington State, where he completed 13-of-25 passes for 97 yards and three interceptions before quitting the team two days later. This will be different. Henry will not be dubbed the messiah. He’s the underdog behind Cristian Solano, Carson Strong, Kaymen Cureton and Griffin Dahn. Henry is worth the risk. Now it’s up to him to make the most of this opportunity, perhaps his last.

* NEVADA FOOTBALL STARTS spring camp in late March, and the Wolf Pack certainly won’t name a starting quarterback after 15 pre-summer practices, but Nevada has to do a better job of finding its eventual quarterback in the 2019 competition than it did in the 2017 one. Two years ago, Ty Gangi and Kaymen Cureton both started two non-conference play with Cornwell looming behind, and Nevada didn’t know who its starter was until its fifth game, which basically sabotaged the season. That can’t be the case in 2019. Nevada needs to identify the best quarterback in fall camp and let that guy have some leash to grow, especially if it is Strong, a redshirt freshman who has the highest ceiling of the group.

* THE MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES fired head coach Tom Thibodeau this week and I couldn’t help but think of Nevada’s Eric Musselman as the next T’Wolves coach. I don’t think it happens. Musselman has said he doesn’t have interest in the NBA now that he’s a big hit in college. But Musselman’s dad, Bill, was Minnesota’s first head coach during its 1989-90 expansion season, and Eric was an assistant on his staff the following season (Thibodeau was the other assistant that year). I’m sure there’s a part of Musselman that still burns to succeed in the NBA. He did an excellent job at Golden State but was fired after a GM change. He struggled with the Kings, his only true failing as a head coach. Again, I doubt Minnesota goes after Musselman, but it’s an intriguing fit given his history with the organization.

Columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at crmurray@sbgtv.com or follow him on Twitter @MurrayNSN.

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