The following story originally appeared in the Syracuse Post Standard on May 13, 2010.By Lindsay Kramer
Around the lacrosse field at West Point, Army defender Bill Henderson is usually known simply as "Big Bill."
It's an obvious tag, given that Henderson goes about 6-foot-3, 205 pounds, but one that's also pragmatic.
"There's not too many nicknames with the name ‘Bill,"' he said. "That's one of them. It takes a lot of respect from your teammates to be a captain. You have to lead by example on the field. It helps to be a little bigger."
The thing is, though, that there are many players in the sport who approach Henderson's stature, including his younger brother, Tim, also an Army defenseman. The "Big" half of Henderson's moniker comes from a different type of stature.
The Tully native is one of three captains on the team, a huge honor in itself that's magnified by his class status. Army played lacrosse for 92 seasons heading into this year and had never bestowed that title on anyone but a senior.
Until this season. In a school known as a cauldron of leadership and character, Henderson is the first junior captain in team history. The title was awarded by a player vote last spring and stamped for approval by head coach Joe Alberici.
"He's a man's man. He's that guy," Alberici said. "Great leaders have just got it, and he's got it."
No. 15 Army (10-5) visits the Carrier Dome 7:30 p.m. Sunday for a first-round NCAA Division I Tournament game against No. 2 Syracuse (13-1). It's a rematch of a contest earlier this season, which Syracuse won 12-7.
"I'm feeling pretty confident this time around," Henderson said. "I think our defense as a group has improved. They (the Orange) have a lot of great players. But they are not unbeatable."
Henderson's credibility begins with his obvious talent, which earned him the Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year award this season. But how he fought to showcase that ability cuts more to the heart of his clout.
As a freshman, he was buried on the depth chart behind older defenseman and wondered if he'd ever dig himself out.
"There's a lot of good defensemen in our program," he said. "There's always that fear that I wouldn't be able to step in and lead the defense that's older than I was. Once I gained respect from them, it was pretty easy to get the rest on board. You have to show the other players I'm willing to work."
Henderson was named to the league's first team as a sophomore and this season has made opposing scorers drop off the radar. Alberici's man-to-man defense is based upon Henderson's ruthless ability to excise the most dangerous threat from a foe's attack week after week. On April 30, for example, Henderson held Bucknell two-time All-American attackman Austin Winter, who entered the game ranked tenth nationally in assists, without a helper.
"We put a lot on Billy's shoulders. We typically put him on an island. We rarely slide to him," Alberici said.
"It's a huge challenge every week," Henderson said. "Coach, from day one, said the defensive attitude needs to be punish every possession. I hung on to that. As much as it's a team game, I need to prove myself every week."
Henderson, an international law major, prefers to do that with actions far more than words. If all three captains have different roles, Henderson is definitely not the one who delivers the fiery pep talks.
If you listen really closely, though, you can definitely hear him preach. Especially if you are a young defenseman. Alberici said whenever he catches a glimpse of Henderson on a practice break he's invariably tutoring a teammate.
"It's a team effort. There's not one superstar. The young guys are pretty important," Henderson said. "If someone says, ‘Hey, I think we could do this better,' I'll go to the coaches."
That feedback carries a unique weight, something that can be said of the messages Henderson delivers as both a captain and a defensive stopper. The team has many players who speak, but only a handful who have earned the right to a real voice and who know how to use it.
"Just knowing the team voted, that meant a lot to me. We have a lot of other seniors on our team this year that could have been captain," he said. "It's important to stay humble with that stuff. You are still one of the guys."