Thursday, February 29, 2024

'I am excited to be home:' How Ashton Henderson’s journey at MSU has come full circle

March 22, 2022
Photo Courtesy of MSU Athletic Communications and Made Solo Studios.
Photo Courtesy of MSU Athletic Communications and Made Solo Studios. —

Earlier this year, Ashton Henderson was hired by Michigan State to be the new Executive Associate Athletics Director for Championship Resources.

He returns to the place where he got the opportunity to play college football, as he was a defensive back from 2006 to 2009.  Henderson had his full circle moment come on the second day on the job when he ran into one of his former teammates on campus.

“I used to teach a leadership program for freshmen called ‘Keepin It Real Monday’s’ and I bumped into one of my former mentees, Shilique Calhoun,” Henderson said. “It brought me so much joy just to see him thriving when he was one of those inaugural students in that cohort. Just to exchange pleasantries helped me know that I am right where I need to be in order to not only build more Shilique Calhoun’s but more productive citizens from a character aspect and other areas of life.”

Although his first day on the job was only February 28, Henderson is already feeling comfortable in his new role with the team. 

“It was an unbelievable feeling to come back to the place, after a decade, that has given me so much,” Henderson said.  “Just to have that opportunity to go around, see how campus has evolved, see how things have changed and been enhanced over the years just brings me immense joy. I am truly thankful to be back and it is a very surreal feeling for me.”

He isn’t just comfortable because he is familiar with the people. Henderson also has experience working at premier college football institutions like Florida State and Clemson, along with the professional experience he gained working for the Detroit Pistons before accepting his position at MSU. 

“I have seen it done at a very high level at some of the best institutions in the country particularly on the student athlete enhancement side of the business,” Henderson said. “I worked more so in academic support and student athlete development at Florida State. I also taught several classes and was a support administrator along with many other areas I oversaw. Clemson brought that familiar high level success as well. Then venturing into the pro space where I was able to really apply what I learned in higher education and bring it in real time to help activate various initiatives while I was in Detroit and how they all drive revenue and how they all enhance the experience of anybody we interface with.”

“Collectively, those experiences alone I feel have really prepared me for this next step to take Michigan State and do some really innovative things that we were already doing but continue to strengthen our messaging which I am very excited about.”

Henderson will focus on overseeing the health, mental and physical wellness initiatives within the athletic department, as well as student-athlete engagement and development duties and serving as a supervisor for assigned sports. 

As a former college athlete, Henderson knows that athletes can’t perform to the best of their abilities when they have to worry about a litany of other things, and he is excited to work with and help the athletes to limit the strains that they may be dealing with.

“Holistic development is something that I really pride myself in,” Henderson said. “If you can’t be the best version of you we can’t expect you to go out and perform because you have so many stressors on your mind. Mentally, physically, emotionally, your cup has to be full in areas in which you can provide next level resources to these students. I am really excited to work with the entire student athlete population and share my slice of genius that I have learned from the intercollegiate athletic ecosystem as well as the pro space.”

Henderson is also the president of the National Association of Academic and Student-Athlete Development Professionals, or N4A, and that allows him and MSU to have connections with some of the leaders in the field around the nation and stay ahead of the game. 

New beginnings bring excitement, and Henderson is elated to work with the student athletes of Michigan State. 

“Something that is really important to me and anywhere in any position I have been is to roll up your sleeves and listen to the individuals you are impacting,” Henderson said. “I am currently on a listening tour. I am going to every unit, group and support staff that I get a chance to get in front of to really see where we can take what we are currently doing to the next level. After these meetings are done, that is when we are able to create and that is what I am most excited about.”

There is a lot of work to be done, but excitement creates momentum and there certainly is a lot of excitement coming from Henderson and the athletic department as a whole.

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