HAMMOND | Eleazar Henderson didn't want it to be this way. But here it is nonetheless.
The Morton senior running back will be called on to carry the load tonight when Hammond buses over to Hessville for what can be called, "The Great Lakes Athletic Conference championship."
Morton lost five starters, all offensive players, for violating school rules. So Henderson will need to move the ball if the Governors plan on doing the same thing.
"No sir, I can step up," Henderson said after Wednesday's practice. "I'm that player already. I can step up whether someone is playing or not.
"Play with pride all the time."
Kendall Huff (64 carries for 532 yards) is not expected to play tonight. He has been Morton's horse through five weeks.
Henderson has rushed the ball 45 times for 305 yards.
"(Henderson) brings us great versatility," Morton coach Roy Richards said. "He returns punts and kicks for us. He's a receiver, fullback and tailback in our system. He's done a great job.
"He's always saying, 'Coach, trust me. Give it to me.' We're going to against Hammond."
Henderson grew up in East Chicago, where his father, Marc Henderson, was a standout running back at Washington and Central high schools.
He always dreamed of playing this game. When he was 12, a member of E.C.'s Pop Warner program, he broke his arm in three places.
It was bad. Real bad.
"I was devastated. I didn't want to come back," Henderson remembered. "They had to re-break it. There was so much pain. They didn't even numb it."
A quick wince and contorted facial expression followed his words. But when asked why he chose to keep playing the toughest sport around, a gentle smile appeared.
"Because I love the sport so much," Henderson added.
He played his first two prep seasons at Bowman Academy before transferring. He also competes in track and basketball for the Governors.
"Coach (Richards) is the best coach I've ever had," he said. "It's a lot of fun and a lot of hard work. He wants us to practice and play as hard as he coaches."
Morton has pounded Hammond the last five games. The Govs have outscored the 'Cats 233-51. But Hammond's 14-13 win in 2007 is a haunting reminder of what can happen.
And now being down five players, Henderson and his mates had better be ready.
"This game has been real sloppy," Henderson said of the Hammond-Morton rivalry. "The (weather) forecast is not so good. These games are never perfect. It doesn't matter if we lost some players.
"Our juniors, our team, is ready to step it up."