The future of Los Angeles football could be sitting in front of me but they will understand if you’ve never heard of them. They didn’t even know each other as they sat on a couch in the lobby of the Beverly Hills Hotel on Friday.
“You play for Los Angeles?” Rams rookie running back Darrell Henderson asked Chargers rookie quarterback Easton Stick when they were both asked about being in their new home.
“Yeah,” Stick said. “Chargers.”
“Oh,” Henderson said. “Rams.”
They haven’t been in the city long enough to know if that means they’re rivals but they both hope to be in L.A. for a long time.
Henderson, who was an All-American running back at Memphis, was the Rams’ third-round pick and the 70th overall selection in last month’s NFL draft. Stick, who succeeded Carson Wentz as North Dakota State’s quarterback, was the Chargers’ fifth-round pick and the 166th pick overall.
Both will begin their rookie season third on their respective depth charts behind Pro Bowl starters and established backups. Rams Pro Bowl running back Todd Gurley will be backed up by Malcolm Brown, who got a two-year, $3.3-million contract in the offseason. Chargers Pro Bowl quarterback Philip Rivers will be backed up by Tyrod Taylor, who signed a two-year, $11-million contract in March.
Stick and Henderson are used to being overlooked. Neither was highly recruited coming out of high school. Stick was a two-star recruit, ranked 3,193 overall, when he chose North Dakota State over South Dakota and South Dakota State. Henderson was a three-star recruit, ranked 1,905 overall, when he chose Memphis over Georgia State and Middle Tennessee State.
“I’ve always had a chip on my shoulder,” Henderson said. “I also always trusted and believed that I would end up in the perfect position and in the perfect fit and that’s what happened at Memphis.”
Stick can relate. “I think everyone who plays at North Dakota State has a chip on their shoulder,” he said. “I’m really happy I made my way to Fargo, and I’d make that decision again 100 times out of 100. It’s a special place that became home to me and my family. I wouldn’t change that experience for the world.”
Not only did the fit work for both in college, the same might be true again in the NFL as they prepare to move to Los Angeles and learn from two of the best at their respective positions. After the draft, Gurley reached out to Henderson, who rushed for 1,909 yards and 22 touchdowns last season, and Rivers recently spent time with Stick, who became North Dakota State’s career leader in passing yards, passing touchdowns and wins.
“Todd’s a great guy and he’s someone that every running back should want to learn from,” Henderson said. “Getting to be there with him and getting to work with him every day is an unbelievable opportunity. I’m just going to take the knowledge he gives me and watch how he works and learn from it and bring it to my game.”
When Henderson was talking to teams before the draft, he said he felt the Rams were the best fit for him because of the system coach Sean McVay runs, which is similar to the offense at Memphis. Henderson totaled 2,204 yards from scrimmage and averaged 9.5 yards per play while scoring 25 touchdowns for the Tigers last season.
“If you go back and watch my college film and you watch the Rams film, it’s the same,” Henderson said. “I thought that was the best system I could get in. So everything worked out great. When I was talking to them, everything was clicking and we developed a relationship. The coaches told me they knew they were going to get me so it was the perfect fit.”
While Henderson is expected to see some playing time this season, Stick is in a more unique situation. Although Rivers is 37, he is currently the leader among active quarterbacks in consecutive games started and third all-time at 219, including the playoffs. He has said he has no plan to retire and could play into his 40s like Tom Brady, who will turn 42 before this season.
“I was around him for a day and got to see how he works and how he went about his business,” Stick said. “I’m looking forward to being around him and learning from one of the best to do it. I also want to compete and get better every day so I’m ready when I do get my chance.”
Henderson and Stick were in Los Angeles this weekend for the NFL Players Assn. Rookie Premiere, an annual event where 40 top rookies learn the business of football and jump-start their endorsement careers by meeting with 30 NFLPA business partners ranging from trading card company Panini and online retailer Fanatics to Nike and New Era.
Henderson answered questions with the enthusiasm of Marshawn Lynch at Super Bowl media day while he signed his name more than 5,000 times on cards. “I’m here to play football,” he said as he rolled his eyes. “All the other activities can wait. I just want to learn my playbook.”
As Stick autographed his name over and over again, he smiled at the prospect of winning an autographed Kobe Bryant jersey, which Panini will give to players who autograph each item given to them. “Who doesn’t want a Kobe jersey?” Stick said. “Especially in Los Angeles.”
Both players tried on their full uniforms on a football field for the first time Saturday as they took pictures for their rookie cards and other promotional material. It was the first step of what both players hope will be a long career in Los Angeles.