FAIRFIELD — Erick All and Jacob Hensley confirmed their paths to the next level of football Wednesday morning.
The Fairfield High School seniors participated in an early National Signing Day ceremony in the FHS community room, which was crowded with family, friends and school personnel.
Indians coach Jason Krause just completed his eighth season at the helm, and he said All (Michigan) and Hensley (East Tennessee State) are the 50th and 51st players he’s had at FHS who will play college ball. More will become official when the regular signing period begins Feb. 6.
“That equates to about 35 percent of our senior football players over that time period,” Krause said. “I think that really speaks volumes of the work they’re doing, not only on the football field and the weight room, but also in the classroom.”
All, a 6-foot-4, 225-pound tight end, has been verbally committed to Jim Harbaugh and the Michigan program since the summer. Hensley, a 6-3, 305-pound offensive lineman, committed to East Tennessee State after visiting the Johnson City campus last weekend.
“It’s huge,” All said. “I’ve been thinking about this since sophomore year, before I had any offers. I just knew I was going to be up on that podium talking to my family and teammates.”
“As soon as I committed, it was a big weight off my back,” Hensley said. “As soon as I did that and posted everywhere, all of my teammates and coaches and everyone just coming and talking to me and telling me how much I meant to them, that’s just an amazing feeling that can’t be replaced. I’ll remember that day forever in my life.”
All has decided to graduate from Fairfield and enroll early at Michigan. His last day at FHS is Friday, and winter classes begin Jan. 9 in Ann Arbor.
Krause said All will be the fifth Indian to take the early graduation route, joining Hunter Krause, Jack Carman, Malik Vann and Josiah Scott.
“I encourage it a lot for the guys that I think are at that FBS level,” Jason Krause said. “They get to learn how college works without playing. They get to go through spring ball and get on the meal plan and the weight program, then it’s old hat for them when they go into the summer. They’re way ahead.
“My son wasn’t a Division I guy, but he had an opportunity to do that at the Division II level and he’s going to graduate in April with his bachelor’s (degree), and he still has two years to play at the Division II/NAIA level.”
All said it was an easy decision for him. He said picking Michigan wasn’t difficult either. Choosing UM from a group of finalists that included Florida State, Iowa, Notre Dame and Syracuse, All had an immediate connection with Harbaugh.
“I don’t understand why people would think of him bad,” All said. “If you didn’t know Coach Harbaugh, if you didn’t know he was like a celebrity or famous, you would never guess. He’s the most down-to-earth person that I know. He’s cool.”
Krause said All should fit in well at Michigan.
“I think he really loves the way that Michigan uses tight ends. I think that was a huge piece for him,” the Fairfield coach said. “He loves the physicality of the game and really kind of allowed us to develop a new offensive system because of his abilities as a pass catcher and a route runner, but probably even more so his ability as a blocker.”
Hensley will finish the school year at Fairfield before heading to East Tennessee State, which advanced to the FCS playoffs this season. He feels good about that decision.
“(Leaving early) wasn’t something I wanted to do in the first place, and after committing so late, it would’ve had to be a really quick decision,” Hensley said. “I just wanted to wait a little bit and get some resources built up and make sure I’m set to go off to college.”
All became a major recruit over the past year not only because of his pass-catching and blocking abilities, but because he changed his body. He said “boxes of protein bars and eggs and oatmeal” have been part of that process.
“When he came into our program, he was kind of a lanky, skinny kid that kind of ran like a giraffe trying to get used to his long limbs and his body,” Krause said.
All’s grandfather, Wayne Thompson, also helped along the way. All talked about some of the things they did together when he was around 10 years old.
“We used to live with my grandpa, so I’d go up to his room every morning with a green bean bag,” All said. “He would throw me the bag as hard as he could and I would have to catch it. Every time I dropped one, I had to do something like clean.
“I can’t remember all of it, but every day we’d do stuff like that. He would throw something and I’d have to stop it from getting by me or I’d have to try to make diving catches onto the bed. That’s where I got my hands from.”
Hensley will be joining a program that wasn’t around just a few years ago. ETSU football didn’t exist for more than a decade before starting up again in 2015.
He considered schools like Youngstown State, Duquesne, Georgetown and Lindsey Wilson, but East Tennessee State was his lone official visit.
“It immediately felt like family,” Hensley said. “It just automatically felt like home as soon as I got there.”
It takes a unique mind-set to become a standout offensive lineman. He played everywhere on the line at Fairfield, but said he’s going to ETSU as a guard/center.
“I’m comfortable with anything that they need me to be, just like it was here at Fairfield,” Hensley said.
He’s originally from Ross, but moved to Winston-Salem, N.C., before coming back to Fairfield.
“I moved back up here in sixth grade, and this place will forever be home no matter where I go,” Hensley said.
Surprisingly, he said he didn’t start playing football until the eighth grade.
“Well, I had played when I was a pee-wee kid, but I don’t remember much of that. And it was just one year,” Hensley said. “Then I moved down to North Carolina and my city didn’t have a football program, so I was growing up playing soccer, basketball, anything like that. I came back here and just kept playing soccer, and then one of my friends on the football team was like, ‘You need to try out for the team.’ So I did.”
Krause said if Hensley was two inches taller, he’d be an FBS recruit like All.
“I hate for him that he’s a couple inches too short in everybody’s measurable standard in today’s game,” Krause said. “What I love about Jacob is his passion to play football. He’s a kid that dominates at his position.”
Hensley’s educational goal is to major in biomedical engineering at ETSU.
“Not a lot of colleges have that specific program,” Hensley said. “I want to make prosthetic parts and any type of rehab machine for veterans who need it.”
For Krause, Wednesday was a proud, satisfying day that “put a smile back on my face.” It’s been a tough offseason since the Indians got bounced by Milford in the first round of the Division I playoffs. A 35-7 lead turned into a 39-35 defeat.
“It was a big day already with Erick, but then when Jacob came back from his official and he wanted to sign early, that just made it twice as good for us,” Krause said. “Just to look at those NLIs and see full tuition, rooom, board — and being a parent and understanding how important that is, how valuable that is — it’s just unbelievable to have a day like this.”