For college football recruiters heading out to scout high school football games on Friday night, if you want to spot a future star, they're not always dressed in a uniform.
Watch the kid who's serving as the ball boy. It's inevitable you'll see him one day throwing touchdown passes or running for a score.
Daiyan Henley, the starting quarterback for Crenshaw High, was one of those ball boys. He was at Home Depot Center in 2009 as a 10-year-old when Crenshaw played Concord De La Salle in the
"Yep, I was on the field," said Henley, who celebrated his 15th birthday Tuesday. "Seen the injuries, seen the touchdowns. Seen what happened in the locker room. Seen it all go down. I was right there."
He saw Crenshaw take a 14-0 lead and watched De'Anthony Thomas dazzle everyone until an ankle injury in the second quarter knocked him out of the game. De La Salle rallied for a 28-14 victory.
That up-close and personal experience helped prepare Henley for a season in which he started 10 games and now gets to play Carson on Friday in a City Section Division I quarterfinal playoff game.
"To see the big stage, to see how people work under pressure, to see how Crenshaw will act going into a big game, it was a good experience, something I needed to see, something I needed to know," Henley said.
Now it's his turn to be on a big stage, and so far he's performing beyond expectations.
Asked whether the 6-foot Henley, just a sophomore, is going to be a top quarterback, Coach Robert Garrett said, "He's progressed a great deal already. He will be a great quarterback. Not one day do I think he will, I know he will. He's progressed under the fire. He can't do nothing but go up."
Henley's first varsity start was a learning experience. It happened on Aug. 30, and Crenshaw was overwhelmed by Long Beach Poly, 54-14. Considering his age and that Poly left him little time to throw, Henley more than survived.
"I had a lot of pressure on me," he said. "I was a little nervous at the beginning, but when I got to the moment, I felt and knew what I had to do. The team had my back and we pulled through. We did the best we could do."
The Cougars (8-3) are unbeaten against City Section competition but will be the underdogs to No. 4-seeded Carson (9-2), the Marine League tri-champion.
Whatever happens, you can count on Henley standing in the pocket and being unafraid to make big throws. The five years he was a Crenshaw ball boy were invaluable. He paid attention, accepted responsibility and took his job seriously.
"I had fun being a ball boy," he said. "That was like an honor to me. I would love to go around to the kids at my school and say, 'I was the ball boy at Crenshaw.'"
Now he's the one everyone will be looking to lead the way. "I do love being the quarterback," he said. "I love helping the team. I love my team."
He has a 3.38 grade-point average and is taking chemistry, geometry, honors English, honors history.
"I'm working on getting all A's," he said. "I'm trying to get that 4.0 for 20 weeks. I'm trying to keep that [secret] from my parents. A little present for them."
By the time Henley graduates, the ball boys are going to want to be just like him.