Western Illinois coaching job 'a calling' for former wide receiver Myers Hendrickson

Myers Hendrickson was officially introduced Monday as the 31st head coach in the history of Western Illinois football. (Photo by GoLeathernecks.com)

After a Zoom meeting Friday with nearly every player on the Western Illinois football roster, Myers Hendrickson wound up in the team’s locker room in Western Hall.

“That’s where I gravitated to,” Hendrickson said Monday at his introductory press conference on campus. “I stood in there and took it all in. I grew up in there. It feels the same. It smells the same. The only difference is a lot of the players that I played with are up on the wall. You see all those guys who have been in the NFL.

“It gives you a tremendous amount of pride,” he said of his alma mater.

Hendrickson, the 31st head coach in school history, is the son of former WIU head coach Mark Hendrickson and a former Western wide receiver.

A 2011 Western graduate and a product of Macomb High School, Hendrickson said taking over a team that hasn’t had a winning season since 2017 is “a calling.”

“Macomb is where my heart and soul is,” said Hendrickson, who was the head coach for the past three seasons at NAIA Kansas Wesleyan, where his teams went 30-4. “I’m committed to building this the right way. I know it won’t happen overnight.”

Path back to Macomb

Hendrickson said he learned of the job opening – after the school parted ways Nov. 9 with former head coach Jared Elliott – from his former position coach at WIU, Frisman Jackson, who he referred to as “my mentor.”

A former WIU wide receiver and NFL player with two different teams, Jackson is now the wide receivers coach with the Carolina Panthers. He has served as an assistant coach at multiple stops in the NFL and NCAA, including Northern Illinois, Temple, North Carolina State and Baylor.

“He’s been with me every step of the way,” Hendrickson said. “I’ve sat in these chairs and watched a lot of film with ‘Fris’ as a student-athlete. Everywhere he’s been, he’s invited me in to be around the programs that he’s been around.”

As a former Macomb High and WIU player, Hendrickson said he has heard from numerous friends in the community and football alums since Western announced the hiring Friday.

“Who I am has come full circle in these last three days,” he said. “I’m excited to be back.”

What’s next?

On Monday, Hendrickson said recruiting had already begun, with a special emphasis on WIU’s home turf.

“We’re going to recruit West Central Illinois very hard,” he said. “That starts right here in McDonough County and Macomb High.”

He said hiring a coaching staff is taking shape, with preliminary talks complete for several candidates, who soon will make campus visits for interviews.

Hendrickson also has had multiple conversations with the head of football strength and conditioning, Jon Minnis, to discuss WIU’s off-season training program.

In getting to know his roster, Hendrickson started by describing to them where he began.

On Monday, he talked about the life-changing experiences he had and the people he met in Macomb and around WIU.

“I want to bring that experience back to Leatherneck football,” he said. “That really shaped who I am. I already share a bond with (the current players) that only a Leatherneck can have. I poured my blood and sweat into this place, and I want to give that back to this future generation of Leathernecks.”

Challenging schedule

Playing in the rugged Missouri Valley Football Conference has provided plenty of obstacles for teams trying to rebuild.

Hendrickson said he sees the conference – which sent six of its 11 teams to the FCS playoffs this fall – as a source of possibilities.

“There’s a perceived challenge of being in a tough conference,” he said. “The challenge is that you play the best, but in that lies an opportunity. We get to go against the best teams in the country in Division I FCS every Saturday.”

During the off-season, WIU has been mentioned by various media outlets as a potential addition to the Ohio Valley Conference, which features Eastern Illinois and recently lost multiple members to other leagues. Since the football season ended, WIU athletic director Danielle Suprenant has not responded to interview requests from Prairie State Pigksin on the topic of conference membership.

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