Western Michigan WRs share bond as cousins, fathers

David Goricki
The Detroit News
Western Michigan Michael Henry protects the ball while being tackled by Akron defensive back Bryce Jones (17) while being blocked by receiver Carrington Thompson in the first quarter on Oct. 15.

Kalamazoo — Western Michigan has one of the premier receivers in all of college football in Corey Davis, a player certain to be playing on Sunday afternoons in the NFL in the upcoming years.

But, there’s more reasons why WMU senior quarterback Zach Terrell has completed 72 percent of his passes to help the Broncos to an 8-0 record and No. 17 ranking.

Yes, the Broncos have a trio of receivers who have done the job with Carrington Thompson and Michael Henry also getting the job done.

Thompson and Henry are cousins, and both fathers, growing up in Flint before Thompson moved with his mother to Houston where he played his high school ball.

No doubt, the road has been long with the odds stacked against Thompson ever playing at WMU, let alone making a big impact for the Broncos, who showcase an offense which ranks sixth nationally in scoring (44.4 points) and 14th in total offense (502.1 yards).

And, the same thing could be said for Henry.

Now, they will be on the field Tuesday night at Ball State (4-4, 1-3 MAC) when the Broncos play in front of a nationally-televised audience (8 p.m., ESPN2) to keep their unbeaten season alive.

If WMU runs the table, the Broncos — who seek their first MAC title since 1988 — could well be representing the Group of Five conferences Jan. 2 in the Cotton Bowl.

“We gave them the nicknames The Flintstones,” said WMU fourth-year coach P.J. Fleck of Thompson (26 receptions, 464 yards, 4 TDs) and Henry (40-456, 3 TDs). “One thing I’ll say about those two is Batman can’t be Batman without Robin and everyone needs a sidekick. And we have two sidekicks and I wouldn’t even necessarily consider them sidekicks all of the time.

“I’m really, really proud of those guys and how far they’ve come. What they do is they provide a lot more explosive options than just Corey, our running backs and Zach. Now, all of a sudden if you double cover Corey, the run game is there, but we also have two guys who have proven they can make plays.”

Western Michigan looks to break curse of being ranked No. 17

'I just gave away that selfish mentality'

Thompson started out his college career at Division II Northwood in 2012. His dream was to play Division I football, telling Henry during the summer of 2014 he planned on joining his cousin at WMU.

Thompson walked on, playing on the scout team in 2014 before going on to earn a scholarship. Still, he played behind Davis and Braverman, who had 108 receptions for 1,371 yards and 13 TDs last year before moving on to the NFL.

Thompson had eight receptions in 12 games last season. He matched that entire total against EMU on Oct. 22 by grabbing eight passes for 177 yards and two TDs.

Thompson made big plays all game against EMU, including a 32-yard TD grab in the opening minutes when he hauled in Terrell’s pass over the middle, made a spin move to avoid one defender and reached the end zone.

Then, after EMU took a 17-14 lead with 3:35 left in the half, Thompson grabbed a Terrell pass and turned it into a 51-yard gain to the Eagles’ 14 to set up Jamauri Bogan’s 6-yard run for a 21-17 advantage, a lead the Broncos wouldn’t give up.

“My team is always there for me and making sure I’m never worried about my struggles,” said Thompson, who has a 1-year-old son, Carrington Jr. “I’ve just kept my oar in the water and kept rowing. Just transferring schools was a challenge, coming from a school where it was more on me. I just had to get out of that childhood behavior. I was young and just had to grow up. I used to be a selfish guy and now that I have a family that I know actually cares about me and I care about them, I just gave away that selfish mentality.”

Thompson said he transferred to WMU, taking advice from some of his former Northwood teammates, including former MSU running back Glenn Winston. Thompson heard that his talent was beyond the Division II level.

It would be a big mistake if Thompson didn’t leave for Kalamazoo.

“I just listened to (Winston) and they took me in here like a family would,” said Thompson, who is majoring in sports management with a goal of being a sports agent. “It was really tough, but I just kept my head straight and my little boy keeps me right and everything I do is for him. Just thinking about what I have to do for him, Carrington Jr. just kept me going. He lives with his mom in Lansing and they come up for the games every Saturday.”

Harbaugh, Fleck among candidates for national coaching award

'That saved my life'

Henry has 4-year-old son, Kaiden, who lives with his mother in Flint. Henry is working hard on his Criminal Justice degree, scheduled to graduate December 17 with hopes of one day being a detective or an FBI agent.

Henry entered his senior season with 25 receptions, 18 coming his junior year as a third-down receiver. He has taken advantage of his opportunity with the departure of Braverman, who opted to leave for the NFL after his junior season.

“I don't really feel like I have to fill (Braverman’s) shoes, to me it's just next man in. We're all just doing our jobs,” Henry said. "We're the first ones on the field and the last ones off and we're talking about everybody on the team because we want that (Mid-American Conference) championship. We're working hard every day to get it done."

Henry’s journey has been long with a week-long stay in the hospital to deal with stress in his early days at WMU. He credits Fleck, athletic director Kathy Beauregard and WMU president Dr. John Dunn for giving him the chance to be playing and finishing school.

“I feel like this has been a blessing, especially since when I came here in ’12 and redshirted; the receiver coach back then said I’d never play here and told me to transfer,” Henry recalled. “Then, Coach Fleck came with that ‘Row the Boat’ mantra and that saved my life. It made me look at life with a different perspective, to never give up and quit, or never quit on anything and that made me go after my dream even harder because I felt like I really had something to prove, especially with people telling me I’d never play here.

“There's not a day that goes by that I focus on the past due to the stress I had in my life. I just control the controllable and keep my oar in the water. It was hard early on here when I got to college, didn't know how to handle my schedule, how to be a father and being two hours from home. I went through a situation in 2013 when I was hospitalized for about a week and I went on football leave, just a stress type of thing where I couldn't handle things. When I came back, people asked me if I still wanted to play football and I told them I was still passionate about it.

"I've grown up as a man, learned how to handle things, taken care of things I can control. I'm better too because I'm able to see Kaiden more. He's at every game and even in the summer he comes to workouts with me. He's in the locker room and a trainer watches him or Coach Fleck watches him, Zach's (Terrell) girlfriend Maggie has watched him for me. I truly have a family here and I'm proud of it too."

Oh, and he's happy to have his cousin around.

"Carrington's come a long way and for him just coming over has been a blessing since it's always good to have family with you," Henry said. "When he came I had the chance to show him around and there's been a bond that we've built over the years with him being here. We've always looked after each other. It's been special and a blessing for him being here with me."

DGoricki@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @DavidGoricki