ROGERSVILLE – Noah Hensley is known around Cherokee soccer circles for his hard work and good attitude. Both will be put to the test this summer as the graduating senior embarks on a training regimen to prepare to continue his soccer career at Bethel University, to whom he committed Tuesday at a signing ceremony at Cherokee’s Little Theater.
“I feel good,” Hensley said. “A little nervous.”
Bethel soccer coach Malang “J.J.” Jarju is in third season as head coach of the Wildcats and 12th overall at the Nashville NAIA school. A member of the Wildcats from 2003-2007, he was a longtime assistant with the program until taking the head post three years ago.
A native of Banjul, Gambia in West Africa, Jarju played for both the junior and senior national teams of Gambia. He owns the Bethel record for goals scored in a career at Bethel College at 56, the record for points in a career at 151 and assists in a career at 39.
With All-TranSouth Conference first team, All-Region first team, and NAIA All-American Honorable Mention honors during his playing days for the Wildcats, Jarju is the first Bethel men’s soccer player to have his jersey retired and hung in Bethel’s Baker Fieldhouse.
Jarju was not present for the signing ceremony but his influence was.
“I just liked their coaches and the motivation he put into me and the way he wanted me to be the best I could be for his team,” Hensley said. “He really hasn’t told me anything about playing time or position, but he told me if I come out and show that if I wanted to play and if I would give him 100 percent and all my effort, he would give me playing time and he would see what I could do, give me an opportunity to play.
“Their coaching staff is really excellent. They had really good academics and really good classes I could take. Their soccer program is really good. They’ve got some good workouts I’m going to try,” Hensley said.
Those will be essential in Hensley getting playing time, former Cherokee soccer assistant coach Matt Dalton said.
“It really depends on how seriously he takes this summer workout schedule,” Dalton said. “Noah’s best attribute right now is probably speed, based on what I’ve seen. He needs to gain a bit of size and strength. His height is good. He needs a little more weight, because in the college arena there are a lot of guys who just hit the weights like crazy.
“He’s got a workout schedule for this summer. If he takes that seriously, I think he’ll do great. But it’s a rigorous workout schedule. The best answer is ‘it depends,’ but he has a lot of potential,” Dalton said.
“He just has to make sure he keeps that workout going all through the summer, so that when he gets with the rest of the team and he’s in with the real workouts, he’ll be ready. This is just conditioning. You can’t go in behind and expect to catch up. I think he’ll do great. It sounds like he’s ready to take this seriously this summer,” Dalton said.
Hensley described the workout plan.
“I’ve got a pretty rigorous one: 50-yard sprints, four of those for like 30 minutes; then two miles one day and three miles the next; a bunch of pull-ups, push-ups, sit-ups, just a bunch of the essentials, but a bunch of long stuff that’s going to take a lot of pain and endurance to do,” Hensley said, who reviewed areas he needs to improve.
“I probably need to train a lot more and control the ball a little bit more and get my shots down a little more, and figure out where I need to hit it on my foot just to make it go in the back of the net,” he said.
“But I’m ready for it. I’m up for it,” said Hensley.
Hard work won’t be anything new for Hensley, his coach this season, Ryan Wyndham, said.
“He’s a good kid, for sure,” Wyndham said. “He worked hard in practice. I can see why somebody would recognize him for that, the effort that he puts forth in warmups and practices. He has improved quite a bit.”
Wyndham said Hensley’s strength is “maximum effort. He wants to do it. That’s one key thing I noticed about him.”
This was just Hensley’s fifth year playing soccer.
“I’ve played four years at Cherokee and one year of AYSO (American Youth Soccer Organization), so basically five years,” Hensley said.
Wyndham noticed a change this season in Hensley’s presence on the field.
“He had an idea in his own mind now of what he wants to do,” Wyndham said, adding that Hensley is currently stronger on offense. “He was more of a striker for us when he was out there.”
Hensley credits his coaches and teammates for having faith in him.
“It was a fun time. It was fun meeting new people and meeting new coaches and having new coaches who would put their trust into me just to give me playing time and give me an opportunity to show what I could do,” Hensley said.
“I’ve gained a lot more speed. I’ve gained a lot more confidence and a lot better footwork and a lot better shot compared to what I used to have,” he said.
“My biggest influences would be here at Cherokee High School my coaches from last year, Eric (Hughes) and Ryan, and the players – Harrison (Fugate), Drew (Ward), Abe (Willis) and like everybody else that I ever played with,” Hensley said.
“They’ve just been an inspiration to me and have always told me that if I get knocked down, just to keep on going and that’s what I did,” he said.
Dalton said Hensley was easy to coach.
“He had one of the best attitudes on the team. I think early on he was one of our favorites to coach just because he always had a positive attitude. A lot of kids would get down, but he was always positive. He was always ready for the workouts. I never even saw him frown,” Dalton said.
“A lot of kids when they get tired, they kind of let it affect their mood, but he’s just got one of those positive spirits that kind of encourages the others, too,” Dalton said.
Noah’s improvement on the field has been noticeable.
“That naturally happens when you have that kind of attitude,” Dalton said. “It doesn’t matter what size you are. It doesn’t matter what natural ability you may have if you’ve got that kind of attitude going in. You get better.
“Nobody wants to go off the field, but even off the field he had a definite positive influence on the people around him. People going in and out, he would congratulate them, ‘Nice shot,’ or ‘nice defense,’ whatever he had to say was always positive. I think that’s what I remember most,” Dalton said.
Hensley, who plans to study physical education and take other classes such as EMT, nursing or medical courses, said he wants to be a P.E. teacher.
Hensley had an immediate answer for what was his best Cherokee memory.
“What I’m going to remember the most is winning the conference championship my junior year,” Hensley said. “That’s what is going to stand out to me the most. That was probably the best night of my life at Cherokee High School.”