UNION, Ky. — Dante Hendrix could barely keep up with the Twitter notifications last weekend. If he went more than three or four minutes without checking his phone, he would have more than 20 messages, mentions and retweets to sift through.
That’s what happens when you make the best catch your head coach has ever seen and appear on ESPN’s SportsCenter Top 10 with the No. 1 play.
It has been nearly nonstop for the Cooper High School senior since his one-handed catch during the Jaguars’ 41-13 win over Boone County on Oct. 14.
He heard from football coaches at Purdue, Eastern Kentucky and Eastern Michigan, and of course, Indiana State, where he has verbally committed to play football next fall. He heard from classmates and teachers at school.
“I was getting a lot of love from a lot of different people at our school, just talking about how they’d never seen a catch like that in person,” Hendrix said. “So it was really cool.”
It all started on a third-and-long play early in the game against Boone County at Cooper. The Jags needed to convert to avoid a second straight three-and-out to open the game.
Hendrix was to run a deep post route for senior quarterback Jerod Lonaker.
“I was one-on-one with the safety,” Hendrix said. “I got him to bite on a flag (route) and then I ran my post. Jerod was under pressure, so he just launched the ball. I could tell that he was going to overthrow me, so I just tried to run my fastest, and I just dove and gave it my all.”
Hendrix came out of his sprint and launched himself toward the ball with his right arm fully extended toward the end zone. He got his right hand on the ball and quickly brought it in to his left hand to secure it before he hit the ground on his right side.
“I just reached my hand out and brought it back in,” Hendrix said.
Cooper coach Randy Borchers was on the sideline without a great view of the play, but he knew he’d seen something special.
“I remember standing on the sideline and looking at one of my coaches and saying, ‘There is no way he just caught that,’” Borchers said. “He did. It was something special.
“That’s the best catch I’ve ever seen in person or really on TV.”
Hendrix finally saw the catch for the first time later that night on Twitter.
“I honestly didn’t know how good the catch was until I saw it on camera,” Hendrix said. “That’s when I realized, ‘Wow, I really did catch that.’”
What he did notice in real time was the reaction from the crowd, teammates and Boone County defenders who offered him congratulations. It didn’t take long after that for video of the catch to spread on social media. Then, soon after Hendrix had gotten into bed for the night following the game, his dad came into his room.
“He said that ESPN had reached out to Cooper football and asked permission to use the video,” Hendrix said.
He was on SportsCenter. He had made the top play in the world for the day.
“Wow, that’s really me on SportsCenter right now,” Hendrix said he thought to himself.
“It’s honestly amazing. I don’t think it’s set in. I’ve grown up watching that show since I was little. Just to see myself on it is crazy. You have the best athletes in America who are on it every day. It’s so amazing.”
While Borchers was amazed at the athleticism displayed in making the catch, the fact that Hendrix came up with a big play in a big situation was much less of a surprise.
“That was such a big catch for us Friday,” Borchers said. “We came out against Boone and in our first series we went three and out. We came back that second series, and I believe that was a third-and-long. So we’re about ready to go three and out two series in a row, and he makes that catch.”
Hendrix leads the host of weapons Lonaker can get the ball to with 55 catches for 1,140 yards and 18 touchdowns.
“He’s a kid that we feel like any time we need a play, he can make that play for you,” Borchers said. “He’s done it time and time again. When we need a play or when we need a spark, he always seems to come up big for us.”
His nearly 1,200 receiving yards have helped Lonaker reach 2,571 yards through the air in only eight games, shattering Will Ludwig’s previous single-season school record of 2,097 yards set in 11 games in 2013.
“Dante, I’d say, is the best receiver around,” Lonaker said.
The experience since last Friday hasn’t done much to change Hendrix’s outlook and presence in the locker room.
“If you weren’t involved in it, you wouldn’t know that he was getting any type of publicity on it,” Borchers said. “He came in to film the next day humble, and he didn’t say a word about it. We were giving him some grief coming in about his head being so big and he just kind of smiled about it. He kind of laughed and carried on. That’s the special thing with him.”
Hendrix’s focus for now is Saturday’s regular-season finale when the Jaguars will play host to neighborhood and district rival Conner at 7 p.m.
“We have a great opponent in Conner,” Hendrix said. “We’re big-time rivals. They’re a pretty solid team, but we know we’re a pretty solid team. We both want to come out with victories, so it will be a battle.”