HENRICO, Va. (WWBT) - Deep Run senior quarterback Bo Kite describes his teammate and best friend Gabe Henderson with a smile on his face.
“He was a star that freakin' lit up the whole sky. The kid had a crazy personality.”
Kite, his Deep Run teammates and coaches, as well as the community, have had about five months to process the student-athlete’s death. Henderson passed away after a boating accident on Lake Anna, and the hours and days immediately following were some of the hardest of head coach Chad Hornik’s life.
“What do you say to your players? What do you say to the guys involved?” said Hornik. “Those were the hardest things I’ve ever had to deal with."
Hornik acknowledges that his players probably haven’t been too diligent about social distancing in the aftermath of their teammate’s death. Henderson would have been a senior this year and a standout wide receiver and defensive back. A memorial remains displayed outside of the Deep Run football stadium, but a hole has been left in the school community, and the players have relied heavily on each other to help get through the bumpy road that’s followed that late April day.
“I think they’ve actually kind of bonded more than they’ve ever bonded before,” noted Hornik. “They’ve spent a lot of time at each others' houses and just kind of comforting each other and being there for each other.”
Kite and Henderson had been friends and teammates since they were seven years old. They became the Wildcats' dynamic duo of quarterback and receiver and helped pace the team to an 11-1 record and playoff appearance as juniors in 2019.
“We just went out and tossed pretty much every day. We hung out every day,” remembered Kite. “When you grow up with somebody, you kind of know what they’re thinking without them saying it.”
Now Kite is moving forward without his best friend. He was part of the group that was boating the day of Henderson’s passing, and with the help of family, friends and counseling, he’s spent the last five months doing his best to heal.
“I was just always around people,” recalled the Deep Run senior. “I knew that when I kind of got alone and got into deep thought, that’s just something I didn’t want to mess with.”
“Bo and Gabe were best friends,” added Hornik. “My conversations with Bo were making sure he wasn’t blaming himself.”
One part of the healing process that has been missing for many because of COVID-19 is football. Deep Run has yet to begin workouts, and the season is not scheduled to start in Virginia until February. The players long for the chance to hit the field to play the game they love, be together, and honor a teammate and friend that can’t be there with them. All in all, they are looking for that chance to get some closure.
“Being around all of your teammates, the brotherhood, everything like that, and then winning games...” Kite said. “I guess football is kind of like a controlled fight. Any built-up emotions you have there, you can let out.”
“Until you get out here on this field and really bond with them, it’s unfortunate that we haven’t been able to do that,” the head coach added. “That’s kind of the hard part of all this with Gabe that makes it even tougher.”
Whenever the team is able to return to the gridiron, it will highlight the absence of Henderson. Both Hornik and Kite note how that’s already the case when they watch film from last year’s games. Players and coaches have been thinking about what that first game back without number 10 lining up beside them might feel like.
“I can visualize Gabe walking off after he’s just caught a touchdown pass or we just scored or maybe he’s just intercepted a ball," Hornik said. “I know what that face looks like and I’m not going to see that anymore.”
The senior QB Kite has thought of the same.
“In my head, I’ve played that scenario multiple times. I feel like the first time I score will be a big hump to get over, and I think after that it’s going to be really emotional, but it will feel a lot better."
Everything Deep Run does this season will be to honor Gabe Henderson. He’s a young man who many feel lucky to have known, competed with and learned from. He won’t be in the locker room or on the field, but the Wildcats will tell you that he’ll be watching.
“The biggest lesson I’ve learned through this whole thing is always live life to your fullest,” Kite said. “Gabe pretty much did anything he wanted, whenever he wanted and however he wanted, and he lived probably the best life he could’ve lived.”
“I keep telling our players now we have an angel watching over us, which not a lot of teams have,” Hornik smiled. “He’ll be with us. We’re just going to miss seeing him out here catching footballs and doing what he does on the field.”
When the season kicks off, Deep Run plans to retire Henderson’s number 10, wear that number on their helmets, and incorporate the 10-yard line on the field as a tribute as well.
Students at Deep Run High School and members of the community have started the Gabe Henderson Live Like 10 organization. It was founded on the belief that hard work and dedication are how dreams and aspirations are reached and that potential should not be limited by financial hardships. To learn more, visit https://gabehendersonlivelike10.org/.
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