|Birth Date/Place:||October 14, 1955 in Jena, LA|
|Death Date/Place:||April 19, 2020 in Oklahoma City, OK|
Zac Henderson went home to be with his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and his beloved parents on April 19, 2020.
Also known as Zacie or “Little Zac,” he was born in Jena, Louisiana, on October 14, 1955, to “Big Zac” and Auline Henderson, a former Texas Tech football player and Baylor homecoming queen. In 1963, the family, including older sister Carol, moved to Burkburnett after Big Zac was offered a job as the high school football coach.
Little Zac grew up to be 6’1” and one of the most accomplished and honored athletes in Burkburnett High School history. His friends will tell you he was the greatest because he did not just excel in one sport but in four, lettering in football, baseball, basketball, and track. The Oklahoman described Zac as “one of the most under-rated OU football players of all time.”
Zac was a member of the 1972 Bulldog AAA Regional Football Championship team. In 1973, he was on the Bulldog basketball team when they won the district championship for the first time in 24 years. He also ran track as a sprinter and was the district champion in the 100yard dash in 1974. In ‘73 and ‘74, he made the All-District baseball team.
During one 1974 Bulldog baseball game, a teammate recalls sitting next to Zac in the dugout when two men walked up and identified themselves as high school scouts for the Cincinnati Reds. (The next two years, the Reds would win the World Series.) The head scout told Zac that the Reds had been watching him and were ready to make him their #1 pick in an upcoming high school draft if he would guarantee to accept the offer. Zac politely declined and said his future would be playing football for either OU or LSU. The men took Zac and his parents out to dinner that evening and were turned down again.
Zac signed to play football for the Oklahoma Sooners. At OU Zac was a four-year starter at free safety including 1974 as the first full-time true freshman starter after the NCAA reinstated freshman eligibility. Upon learning of Zac’s death, Coach Barry Switzer told reporter Berry Tramel that Zac “was a great player. He jumped right to the top right away.” Switzer said Zac started as a true freshman not because the Sooners were shallow in the defensive backfield but because “he was that good. Hell, this was ‘74. He could run. First thing you gotta do, you gotta know how to run, how to practice. If you know how to practice and you’re smart....” OU won the National Championship Zac’s freshman year, undefeated.
His first year as a Sooner, Zac wore the jersey he was assigned upon arrival: No. 1, but at the end of that year, he asked if he could switch to No.19 to honor his dad. In his last three years at OU, Zac wore No. 19, the same number Big Zac had worn during his college football career at Texas Tech.
The Sooners repeated as National Champions in 1975. In 1977 the New York Athletic Club named Zac college football’s defensive back of the year (an award renamed the Jim Thorpe Award in 1986). That same year he was unanimously voted All-American safety. He was a three-time All-Big Eight selection and made 15 college career interceptions, which ranks No. 4 for most interceptions in Oklahoma history.
Zac still holds the OU record as the all-time leading tackler in defensive backs: 299 tackles. He played in the NFL for the Philadelphia Eagles, coached by Dick Vermeil, including playing in Super Bowl XV. He played four years in the Canadian Football League and in 1982, while playing for the Toronto Argonauts, was named Eastern Conference Defensive Player of the Year.
Following his retirement from football, Zac worked in the oil industry when he wasn’t on a golf course or fund-raising for the Sooners which usually also involved being on a golf course. He loved nothing better than playing golf with his dad (until Big Zac’s death in 2006) and his friend since 1963, David Robinson. And he loved any time he spent with his daughter Laura. He died at home in Oklahoma City of natural causes.
Zac is survived by daughter Laura, sister Carol, beloved aunts, uncles, and cousins, three cats, two dogs, and a lifetime of cherished friends, many of whom he knew from before Little League sign-ups. It was never an athletic accomplishment or award that made Zac’s face light up with a smile and his eyes twinkle; it was seeing a friend, someone who really knew him, not just knew of him. If the encounter also involved golf, all the better.
Viewing will be from 8am to 5pm Friday April 24th at Owens and Brumley Funeral Home in Burkburnett. Graveside services will be held at 11am on Saturday April 25th at the Burkburnett Cemetery pavilion. A Celebration of Life memorial will be held in Burkburnett when CoVid restrictions are lifted. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to the Meals on Wheels program at the Burkburnett Senior Center. Condolences may be sent to Owens and Brumley Funeral Home in Burkburnett or online at www.owensandbrumley.com.
- A (C) indicates that the player was a captain for that season (named before each game in 1982, and 1995 through 1998).
- Related To refers to other OU athletes only.
- Calculations for career totals will be skewed if the season totals are incomplete.