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Vigilantes WR sacrifices to chase dream

7/9/2010

PLANO, Texas -- When Dallas Vigilantes receiver Kenny Henderson takes the field, his head is clear. Scouting the defense, watching for tells, thinking about how he can get an extra yard from the defense -- game days are easier for Henderson.

But when he walks off the field, his mind goes back to New Jersey and the wife and son who stayed there so he could keep doing what he loves a little bit longer.

"[My wife] is the strong one," Henderson said. "She's got [our] kid, she's up there without much family and she's basically doing everything on her own. She's letting me live out my dream of playing football. So everything goes to her [credit.]"

His wife, Rhonda, works in the U.S. Navy, and when her husband joined the Philadelphia Soul they purchased a house in New Jersey close to where the team was practicing. Within a month, the Arena Football League had ceased operations indefinitely.

Rhonda had just received her new orders in the Northeast to be closer to her husband, so they were stuck for the moment. When the league returned this season, Kenny got the call to come to Dallas and left behind his wife and newborn son, Kenny Henderson III (or Trip).

In a 1-11 campaign with the Vigilantes this season, he's wondered more than once if he made the right choice.

"There's been many days when I've debated whether I should just go home or not," Henderson said. "That $400 sacrifice is real tough."

The AFL allows each team to have three players paid $1,000 a week, while the rest of the players get $400.

The receiver, who is having a career year with a league-leading 2,603 all-purpose yards, said he keeps playing for "that dream."

The dream is to make it to the NFL -- or, more realistically, the Canadian Football League -- and with Henderson healthy and producing this year, it isn't over quite yet.

But Henderson is far from the only Vigilante working to make ends meet.

Several players work for a moving company, linebacker Duke Pettijohn is helping out at a law firm (when not trying to keep his young children quiet on the sidelines during Vigilantes practice), and defensive lineman David Hicks is working on his teaching certification.

Hicks said he will be taking his final test for certification in the middle of July, and has been studying relentlessly to make sure he achieves his dream of being a teacher and football coach.

"You've got to be disciplined [to keep this schedule,]" Hicks said. "Right now, I'm in my certification class from eight to four, then I'm [at practice] by five. Then [after practice] go to sleep, get up and do it all again."

With everything going on off the field, Hicks, Henderson and the rest of the Vigilantes could be forgiven for not being focused on their opponent.

But interim head coach James Fuller has made it clear that if the team is to pull a huge upset this weekend over the visiting Tampa Bay Storm (9-3), it will need focus and a lot of luck.

"I mean, [the Storm] are the best thing out there right now," Fuller said. "They're hitting on all cylinders. ... It's the best Tampa team I've seen in years."

Tampa brings a league-leading seven-game win steak to Dallas, while the Vigilantes hold a league-high nine-game losing streak. Fuller said the Storm are solid everywhere, but his team would be "ready to fight."

"They play physical, and we're going to have to try to play [more] physical than them," Fuller said. "We're also going to have to knock down some of our mistakes. Tampa doesn't make a lot of mistakes."

Nonetheless, Henderson will take the field against the Storm in his usual No. 3 (for Trip) and live the dream for one more weekend. And he'll get one weekend closer to his family.

"I'm ready for [the season] to end, but I don't want to stop playing football," Henderson said.

Josh Davis is an ESPNDallas.com intern and a writer for TCU's student newspaper, the Daily Skiff.