Distinctive Kicking Niche
Nov. 21, 2012
By Blake Barington
Senior placekicker Paulo Henriques spent his young life kicking in the town of Johannesburg, South Africa, a place he called home until he was 13 years old. But in South Africa, Henriques' niche was soccer, a sport quite popular in the country that hosted the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
After leaving one of the most dangerous cities in the world, the Henriques family settled in West Memphis, Ark., in 2004. His parents, Joao and Cheryl, and brother, Matthew, have called West Memphis home ever since.
Growing up, Henriques would travel to the United States occasionally to visit his mother's parents, who had moved to Jonesboro, Ark., in the 1990s.
"My mom's entire family immigrated to the U.S. in the early 90's," Henriques said. "She got a really good teaching job in South Africa so she decided to stay, and then we eventually moved here in 2004."
Henriques said that there were a couple of differences between the two countries that he noticed when he first arrived.
"The biggest thing was the food," Henriques said. "Also, it felt like at the time when I was living there, the technology was actually a little more ahead there than it was here. But, of course now it's not even close. I think a cell phone had just come out here when it had already been out six or seven months in South Africa."
After a lengthy process, the Henriques family was granted U.S. citizenship in December 2011. Henriques said to finally be called a U.S. citizen was a great feeling for him and his family.
"It meant a lot," Henriques said. "You can get your citizenship after five years but it's kind of an extensive process. My parents were finally able to afford everything so my mom went ahead and got me, my dad and her applied. My brother automatically became one since he was under 18. It's been a long road, but now that it's here it's awesome."
Once moving to the United States, Henriques witnessed his first football game on Sept. 18, 2004 when the Tigers took on the Arkansas State Indians. In that game, Henriques watched current New England Patriot and former Tiger kicker Stephen Gostkowski score 17 points for Memphis, the second-highest single-game total by a kicker in school history. Gostkowski and the Tigers would go on to win the game, 47-35.
"I went in there not knowing anything about the game," Henriques said. "One of the biggest things that stuck with me was my granddad had pointed out that Stephen Gostkowski was kicking it soccer style. I had always thought that they kicked it straight on because of what you see in the movies. The next week, I went out and tried out for my junior high team and ended up liking it."
Gostkowski's style and demeanor resembles someone Henriques likes to be on the field.
"A lot of kickers are all about being mental," Henriques said. "He's one of those guys that will get physically into the game. He likes to get hyped before a game. That's one of those things I like to copy off of him is the fact that I get involved with the team. When it comes to his actual kicking, he's a clutch guy."
Henriques would go on to have a successful high school career while at West Memphis, lettering three seasons as a punter and kicker for Coach Lanny Dauksch. During his senior season, Henriques was 44-of-45 on point after attempts and made nine of 13 field goal attempts with his four missed field goals being from a distance of 55 yards or more. That year, Henriques helped the Blue Devils reach the state semifinals and finish with a record of 10-1-1.
In 2007, Henriques inked his name into the school record books after booting a 53-yard field goal to break a 20-year-old school record. Through his years at West Memphis, Henriques had been named all-state (2007-08), all-conference (2006-08), all-county (2007) and took part in the Arkansas All-Star Football Game.
Following in his brothers' footsteps, 17-year-old Matthew is now a kicker for the Blue Devil squad at West Memphis.
"I asked him if he wanted to play college ball and he said `If the opportunity presents itself, I would like to,' Henriques said. "He said he just wants to do it for fun and try and break my high school record."
At West Memphis, Henriques also spent three seasons on the pitch, but chose football because he thought he saw more of a future from it.
"I feel like there's a little bit more opportunity with football than there is with soccer," Henriques said. "Going back five or six years, soccer has grown since then. But in America, football is the reigning champ."
Before Henriques arrived on the U of M campus, he was committed to play at Arkansas State just days before signing day. However, Henriques would choose Memphis as his new destination. While on the field, Henriques has had his parents and brother cheering him on at all the Tigers' games.
"My parents and brother have always been there for me," Henriques said. "They're there every Saturday and go to most of my away games. If it wasn't for my parents, I wouldn't be where I am."
Calling West Memphis his home, several of Henriques' Tiger teammates have no idea that he grew up in South Africa.
"A lot of the guys that have been here awhile know that I am," Henriques said. "For a lot of the newer guys, it takes some convincing. A lot of people think I'm Hispanic because of my last name but eventually I get them to believe me. I let them talk to my parents because they still have strong accents."
Set to graduate this December with a bachelor's degree in sports and leisure management, Henriques plans to go to law school at either Memphis or the University of Arkansas at Little Rock after the fall semester concludes.
"I've always been interested in law," Henriques said. "While I was growing up, my mom would always watch Law and Order. The biggest thing for me is that I'm intrigued by the criminal mind. I think it's something that will keep me on my toes, and never get bored of. I would like to be a criminal lawyer. If that doesn't work out, I'll probably go into coaching or something like that. I really believe I can do something with law."
As his playing days at the U of M are drawing to an end, Henriques says he is going to miss every aspect of playing college ball.
"I'm going to miss playing for the Tigers," Henriques said. "Of course, I'm going to miss my teammates and coaches, but also just the college environment of football. For a lot of us, this could be our last time playing competitive football."
Heading into Saturday's final game as a Tiger, Henriques has converted on 4-for-9 field goal attempts and made 18-of-20 point after tries this season. Last week, he kicked a career-long 51-yard field goal in the Tigers' win over UAB. He is also one of the nation's leaders in touchbacks with 32 of his 47 kickoffs not being returned from the end zone (68 percent).
Kickoff Saturday is slated for 3:30 p.m. in Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium.