Like any rookie, Quadree Henderson waited by his phone during the NFL Draft, hoping to get a call from a team telling him they were selecting him, no matter what round it was.
But like many of those rookies, the call didn’t come. His name wasn’t announced on the stage at AT&T Stadium. He didn’t have that draft day moment.
That didn’t dash Henderson’s hopes.
“I would have loved to have heard my name called,” said Henderson. “It wasn’t a disappointment. I am on somebody’s team now. I have the opportunity to compete at the next level. It was a long process, the draft is long. But I am not disappointed.”
That could be because of the call that eventually did come. His phone rang as the draft was winding down and it was news that the Steelers were adding him as an undrafted free agent. The team he watched the last three years while he played at the University of Pittsburgh was now his team.
“It was welcome to get the phone call,” said Henderson. “It’s my second home. I spent the last three years in Pittsburgh. To get a call from the Steelers was a blessing. I am familiar with the city, I am familiar with the facility.”
And he is familiar with the team. The Steelers share the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex with the Pitt football team, and Henderson would keep an eye on what was happening on the other side of the building, learning work habits from watching the pros.
“I know a lot about the Steelers,” said Henderson. “I would see Antonio Brown, Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, all of them, and watch them practice. Seeing them all of the time, I could see how hard they worked. Now I am glad I get to head right next door and work with a bunch of Pro Bowlers and future Hall of Famers.”
He also watched James Conner, his former Pitt teammate, and now his Steelers teammate.
“I talked to James after the draft,” said Henderson. “I am glad he is my teammate again. We had a bond when we were at Pitt. He told me to be patient with the process. That is the main thing he said. He said your time will come sooner or later.”
The key to his time could be special teams. Henderson was an explosive returner in college, averaging 26.6 yards per game with four touchdowns on kickoff returns and 14.4 yards per game and three touchdowns on punt returns in his three seasons.
“I definitely feel like I will need to make an impact on special teams,” said Henderson. “Special teams is another aspect of my game. What makes a good returner is you have to have great vision, you have to be patient with your block, and also have the speed to make people miss. All of those factors make you a good returner, and I think I have those.
“I am a receiver too. I can’t wait to show Coach (Mike) Tomlin that I can do more than be a punt returner.”
It’s that aspect of his game he is hoping everyone takes notice of over the next few months. His opportunities at Pitt weren’t plentiful, with 45 receptions for 473 yards, but it’s something he continues to work on, including spending time with Chad ‘Ochocinco’ Johnson and Anquan Boldin this offseason as he prepared for the draft.
“I wanted to work on my receiver techniques,” said Henderson. “I didn’t have a lot of film on tape. I worked with them because I didn’t have as much time to show in college. It helped me a lot. I learned a lot of different tips from guys who played in the league, two of the best to ever play in the league.
“I definitely feel like I need to prove myself. I am an undrafted free agent trying to make the 53-man roster. I have goals. I will work my butt off to show people I can play at the next level. I want to show I can play receiver as well as returner, and do it with a humble head on my shoulders. I want to go in there and prove myself to Coach Tomlin.”