COLUMBIA — Dorian Henderson, a 174-pound junior for the Missouri wrestling team, didn’t even know wrestling was a sport heading into high school.
He was more focused on his football career at the time. He played outside linebacker and running back for Columbus High School in Columbus, Ga. To keep Henderson active during the offseason, his coach suggested he give wrestling a try.
“I did it just to stay in shape for football,” Henderson said.
It turned out Henderson was a natural. He immediately began drawing interest from college wrestling teams across the country, and Missouri wrestling coach Brian Smith was among the coaches who pursued him.
Smith discovered Henderson at a wrestling camp Missouri holds every year in Milledgeville, Ga. Henderson was so big and strong, even as a sophomore, that Smith didn’t think he was a high school student.
“I said, ‘Who’s that assistant coach over there?’” Smith said. “I started watching him and I said, ‘I want to recruit that kid in two years.’”
When he arrived at MU, Henderson spent his freshman year learning from Ben Askren, a two-time NCAA champion who went on to compete in the Olympics. Henderson and Askren both wrestled in the 174-pound weight class, so they would often work together during practice.
“He used to put it on me a lot,” Henderson said. “He really tried to push me.”
Henderson said he still talks to Askren occasionally, though not as often anymore because Askren is busy training in mixed martial arts.
Now, Henderson has gone from not knowing what wrestling is to wanting to make a career out of it.
Henderson is a sociology major at Missouri, but isn’t sure what he wants to do with that degree after college.
“I took a few of the classes and thought they were interesting, and I felt like maybe I could find something to do with it,” he said.
He said he would like to find a way to coach wrestling after college, too.
If he advances far enough, he will get a chance to wrestle Iowa State’s Jon Reader again. Reader, a senior, is the No. 1-ranked wrestler in the 174-pound weight class at 29-0 this season. Henderson is ranked 21st at 20-8.
On Feb.13, Reader defeated Henderson by technical fall, winning the match 16-0. Henderson was battling an elbow injury that day and is excited to get a rematch against Reader without being hampered.
“I’ll be more healthy, and I’ll be ready for him,” Henderson said.