Joshua Henry: An Unexpected Journey

Photo: Igor Lazarevic
Back in 2010 I left Minnesota State University early to attend a pro day. I had one more year left in college but I decide to skip it. 

After not getting picked up by a professional team, I began to coach at Compton Centennial high school under a great coach name Jimmy Nolan, who had also been a coach and player overseas. This is the person who told me and helped me to be noticed by overseas teams. 

It was not until 2012 that the Kraljevo Royal Crowns in Serbia came calling. It took me 2 years to get overseas. My first reaction to the country of Serbia was - Where in the Hell is Serbia located? After doing research about Serbia I became more and more interested in the country. But others around me did not feel the same way; my mom thought I was going to Siberia, which is located in Russia. And my uncle told me to be careful because they are always at war. My roommate who was down their name David Akins had contacted me through facebook and we talk for an hour about our expectation.

Our first day down there was great we had pictures and media appointment to attend to. Luckily, another import Josh Hepner was there to help us translate. Me and David and the team instantly clicked, it was so great we feel good about the team and the coaches as well as the players. We went on live TV and started to talk trash about how we are going to win every game and anything less then a championship is a failure. 

Until the first game of the season where we played the Wild Boars from Serbia, we got beat. We thought just because we came from colleges we were going to dominate the league. That was not the case, we got put into our place and for 2 days straight David and I was on the couch, could not move at all because of the game. We could not even make it upstairs. We had spent 2 nights on the couch laughing at the pass game and what had taken place. With a 17 to 35 lost we could do nothing but smile and wince because of pain.

The last game of the season we played the #25 rank team in all of Europe which was vukovi Belgrade. We was ready, David and I told every one it was going to be fireworks and it was, from the opening kick off returned to both teams scoring on every passions till the first half. Still to this day we talk about that game even though we lost by 3 touchdowns. It's sad to say that the referees in Europe are horrible, because we had 3 touchdown taken back because of bad calls. I remember that the 2nd quarter took 1 hour long because of bad calls and the refs had to consistently stop play just to make the correct ruling. 

My first year in Serbia was coming to an end. I loved hanging around the coaches we talk football and life while Josh Hepner was talking to David about God and understanding. We had a great QB name Strahinja Stepovic who I became very impressed with; in addition we had a great team President who did what he could to make our stay great. Even though we was not getting paid unlike other imports from other team in Serbia. He tried his hardest. I was very lucky to be a part of the team and great organization. Most teams you go to in Europe have poor organization or their team president will sell the dreams, but not this president he told us what to expect and you really can see and tell that he have tried everything he could to make our stay enjoyable.

We lost to the Wild Boars in the semifinals, but it was a great season I met some really nice people that I will always remember.

The following year a friend had told me about football in Israel. At this point I was ready to play again. Coming off from a heartbreaking season with the RC team in Serbia 

I was ready. Israel has always been a dream of mine, from reading the Bible and knowing that Israel has a rich history. 1 week before I had to fly to Israel, I was training at a camp call Speed Kills that held by Jimmy Nolan in Fountain Valley California. I got injured and went to the doctor the next day. I was told I torn my meniscus and had a bang up knee. I already made a commitment so I could not back out of it or get surgery. 

On December 2012 Israel had got attack by their neighboring country with bombs. Seeing this on TV never put fear into me because I was so determined to go out to Israel, and nothing would be able to stop me. But again, this brought concerns to my family, from seeing the impact of the bombs on the news and just from Israel history. This caused a delay to bring me over, while all the games were cancelled - I was able to begin to rehab my knee. 

It was in February 2013 that everything was back to normal. Games were on. Before I left to the airport we had a family pray, and my family was so nervous and worried about me going over to Israel as they tried to talk me out of going. On the 17 hr flight all I was thinking about was what is Israel like? From the city to people, are they going to be able to speak English unlike Serbia where no one really spoke English. I had a lot on my mind. 

Finally, touchdown in Israel, ready to play for the Tel Aviv Pioneers. Sucks to say that I came to Israel on Air Jordanian - airlines form the country Jordan. A soon as I got off the plane, there was security asking me to stop, they want to have a word with me. I was taken to a room being question over and over again. Asking the same question but in a different way. Question such as - Who did I come to visit?; Why am I here?; How long am I going to be here?; Do I have a pet?.. A pet I answer, “If you know anyone giving away pets I'd be more the happy to receive one.” Then anther question “Are you Palestine?’ - No, I answered, I am American, I am on your side, I thought we was working together.” Apparently they did not find that funny and kept me in question for a little while longer until they were able to reach one of my teammates for clarification. 

“Israel The Holy Land”,  my dream came true not only being in Israel but having a place to stay and not paying for it. A great friend and teammate of mines opened his doors and let me stay at his place (Adam Schmidt). It was fun at his place - I was able to have my own room, play with Zeus - his pitbull, the friendliest dog you ever meet. Adam was able show me around Israel and give me the do’s and don’t. The team was great and coaches as well. Once again I have been blessed by God to put me into a great position with great people and a great organization. Even though I was plying at 60%, my 60% was better then most opponents players 100%. 

The Tel Aviv Pioneers were and are a great team without me, but adding me - we just became that much stronger. You know you're doing something right when other teams in Israel are starting to contact the commissioner of the league to try and get me investigated to see if I was an  ineligible player because of my overseas experience. But the commissioner knew it was BS and did not continue with the team request. 

We lost in the semifinals vs. the Jerusalem Rebels - a team that we beat a couple weeks before. Once again anther loss in the semifinals. It hurts more because knowing that we were a better team and just had easily beaten them 2 weeks before. As well us knowing if we win then we will be able to win the championship because there was no other team as strong and deep as us. But this loss did not sit well with the guys. As tears broke out, fights and arguments and finger pointing started to emerge. It hurt me the most because I know if I was at 100% I could have helped at other part of the team instead just on one side of the ball. But this was not the end of me playing in Israel. I enjoy my time in Israel from going to the West Bank, and seeing the Old City to the Dead Sea. also having a conversation with an Arab who was trying to sell me a sheep while I was walking to the busstop heading home from the Dead Sea. “80 shekels” he kept saying to me. In my mind that was a deal but I can’t take a sheep on a bus with me. The one thing that I really had problems to adjust to was the Shabbat where everything shut down until the end of the next day. Also how everywhere you go they have deals, you can’t buy just one thing without a store trying to add on something else. I also have soon to find out that Israeli is “cheap.” 

In summer 2013,  I had just got done with surgery of my knee and I was ready. I received an email from Salvador All Saints in Brazil. “Are you kidding me Brazil” - Yes! I am healthy, finished with my rehab. Once again I am blessed to go to a place where I don’t have to pay, I get the opportunity to travel to Brazil.

“Brazil?” - I had friends asking me if I can tell the coach to sign them, how I got signed out there, (bring me some hair back) “inside joke.”

I met my roommate Karlito Steward. He is a real cool dude; it felt like I knew him from the past. As soon as I got of the plane there were beautiful women that greeted me. I can’t stop thanking God, not because of the ladies, but because I could not believe that I was in Brazil. I had never seen so many beautiful women in my life - all at one time!!! But my time in Brazil was short, I could not get to play with my boy Kiki (Karlito) because I had an open cut on my wrist and did not take care of it. I was at the beach in the water and the next day my hand got seriously infected. so bad that the doctors in Brazil did not know how to treat it or understand what was going on. I quickly came back to America for better help. 

Later on in 2013, KAF Pozarevac from Serbia contacted me. I was hesitant about going there because I felt like the only team I wanted to play for was RC. The team I first started out with in Serbia. But first it was redemption time for me, Israel was calling me once again and I was kinda ready to finish the job to make this championship run. 

I found myself in the semifinals again, playing the same team that knock us out last year. This time the roll was reverse - the Rebels were undefeated winning every game by 30pts. It was an all out “WAR”. We, Pios (Pioneers) came out strong scoring on our first drive. We had great talent this year with a great amount of people returning from last year and hungry as ever. From taking turns scoring on each other to big hits. Emotions run through all of us, it’s the 4th quarter we are up by 2pts with 1 min left in the game and the Rebels are driving. 4th down and Rebels are out of timeouts, our D captain said “Fuck it, Jail house blitz.” 

As the Rebel QB took the snap and step back, we came in so fast that he just fell on the ground - “sack”! Sideline cheering knowing we had wait for 1 full year for redemption. In the finals it was no match up we know who ever we play we were going to win and we did. The championship game was over in the first half. Unable to celebrate until the clock hit zero, it was a long time waiting.

Heading back to Serbia, but this time to Pozarevac. It was so amazing, I love the people and the players and coaches, we have great players and coaches that can play anywhere in Europe and in some college in USA. My boy AJ Brown loves it, this is his first time in Europe and enjoying everyday of it, also a great player. Due to the fact that I had to leave early because of my family problems back home, I only played in 3 games. It sucks that I could not finish the season with my team. 

While Leaving Serbia I got noticed that Adam Schmidt, one of my best friends from Israel, the person who let me live in his home for 3 month, had passed away. All I can do is see him in pictures and remember funny lines he once said. It still hurts me to this day thinking about him because before I left Israel we was talking about working out and just getting better and old times. 

Since my season is  not over in Serbia and my playing career is not done from playing overseas, this will be a "to be continued" blog!

Joshua Henry
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