When the 2023 season gets underway for Notre Dame later this month, safety Ramon Henderson is expected to compete at free safety with DJ Brown. Regardless of how that plays out, he figures to still see plenty of time on the field and gives the Irish an experienced hand who can contribute on that side of the ball.
Like fellow safety Xavier Watts, Henderson does have experience on the other side of the ball. However, after starting his Notre Dame tenure as a cornerback, more immediate needs in the secondary necessitated his shift to the deep secondary. He’s been able to garner enough attention to become an option at safety.
Henderson has good size at 6-feet-1 and 195 pounds and also knows how to deliver a hit. Since joining the Irish, he’s recovered a pair of fumbles and also picked off a pass. Unlike last year, Henderson and his fellow defenders don’t have to absorb a new defense, which should be a benefit for all involved.
Patience in Play
A native of California, Henderson played on both sides in high school as a receiver and defensive back. In their recruitment of him, the Irish were patient in allowing him to make his final decision. That was despite the fact that a host of schools like Oklahoma, Utah, Washington and UCLA were also eager to add him to their respective rosters.
Henderson began his collegiate career during the chaotic pandemic season of 2020 and ended up as a special teams performer in five games. Ordinarily, those cameo appearances might have cost him a year of eligibility. However, due to the unique circumstances of that year, he gained an extra year, which could be important next season.
The 2021 campaign for Henderson was also following a quiet path at cornerback. That trajectory began to change when Kyle Hamilton went down with what turned out to be a season-ending knee injury against USC. That absence didn’t immediately result in a break for Henderson, who had one tackle in that contest and another the following week against North Carolina.
Henderson was then called upon to start in what looked to be a major challenge on the road at Virginia. However, an injury to Cavaliers quarterback Brennan Armstrong severely changed their offensive dynamic and Notre Dame coasted to a 28-3 victory. In that game, Henderson picked up his first collegiate interception.
During the early portion of the fourth quarter of that season’s disastrous Fiesta Bowl loss, Henderson delivered a big-play effort by recovering an Oklahoma State fumble in the end zone. Unfortunately, that clutch play only temporarily held off the embarrassing collapse, though Henderson did manage to match his four-tackle effort against Virginia.
Last season Henderson saw plenty of action and used his speed to make three stops behind the line. One of those was a sack early in the fourth quarter of the loss to Marshall. The clutch stop forced the Thundering Herd to punt, but an ineffective Irish offense quickly punted the ball away and helped Marshall take the lead for good.
Finishing the 2022 season with 20 solo tackles and 37 total stops, Henderson experienced a case of deja vu in the Gator Bowl win over South Carolina. With the Gamecocks already leading 7-0 and driving again, Henderson recovered a fumble to give the Irish the ball back to help set up their first touchdown of the contest.
Awareness with an Eye Toward the Future
Once the 2023 season gets underway against Navy, Henderson is expected to be backing up D.J. Brown but will challenge for a starting role in camp. Like 2021, those plans could change quickly with an injury. In the midst of always being prepared, Henderson also has to make sure that other Notre Dame defensive backs don’t leapfrog him during the campaign.
True freshman Ben Minich was an early enrollee whose first taste of spring ball ended with a broken thumb. While Minich will be available, whether or not he plays could be dependent upon other factors. One other player who could present a challenge is Oklahoma State transfer Thomas Harper, though he’s likely ticketed for duty in nickel coverages.
Before last year Henderson’s momentum to end the 2021 season seemingly had him ready to take over a starting safety spot. That didn’t happen and may not again in 2023. However, making the sort of clutch plays that he’s previously offered in periodic bursts could set the stage for bigger things next year.