Peyton Hendershot was on top of the world, reaching new milestones in his promising young career.
But it wasn’t long before he got his first helping of humble pie. The first of many in 2020.
At the Gator Bowl on Jan. 2 Hendershot was busy re-writing the IU football record books.
Against Tennessee the 6-foot-4 Hendershot was able to set the IU season receiving marks for tight ends with 52 catches and 622 yards.
But even as he was setting those records, the trouble began.
At least his early problems were not of his own doing.
Hendershot played through a shoulder injury that night that would ultimately require surgery. In a gritty performance involving what Hendershot described as the first serious injury of his career, the North Salem, Ind. product led IU with 6 catches for 67 yards.
With the 2020 season months away, Hendershot would address the injury and be ready for his redshirt junior season.
Or so he thought.
Hendershot’s agonizing offseason was only just beginning.
In late February, Hendershot was arrested and faced multiple charges after an altercation with his ex-girlfriend.
Suddenly an injury seemed trivial.
“I can’t explain how disappointed I was,” Hendershot told the media in a Zoom meeting on Friday. “It is so crazy in this world how if you don’t humble yourself, God will. After the bowl game when I broke the record to have the most tight end receptions and yards, I was at the highest point of my life, and within two months I was at the lowest point of my life.”
It is difficult to know exactly how to describe the resolution of the incident. There aren’t a lot of details to work with.
Hendershot plead guilty in June to a misdemeanor criminal trespass charge. In connection with a plea deal, three other charges were dropped.
He was completely cleared by the IU football program and returned to all team activities. Hendershot is not expected to be suspended for any games.
Head coach Tom Allen noted in July that Hendershot had completed several layers of administrative and judicial review related to the incident including team sanctioned discipline, the student conduct process, and the legal process.
“We have a campus committee that determines if a student athlete is reinstated to a team and able to be cleared, and that is the case,” Allen said.
But at the same time, Hendershot still participates in weekly court ordered programs stemming from the incident.
There seems to be more to the story — private details that we will likely never know. Perhaps it is better that way — but it would feel incomplete to not at least acknowledge that this is a story about more than one person.
For everyone involved, the reality is that life goes on — shaped by the incident.
Hendershot’s reality is a new chance, a fresh start, and perhaps most important — a new perspective.
“It’s so crazy how life can hit you,” Hendershot said. “I saw my life, my future, my career flash in front of me, and I’ve never wanted to be in that position again. I’ve worked consciously every day to better myself as a man and a human being.
“I’m sorry to all the people that were involved, I feel horrible and remorseful. I’m responsible for everything in my own life.”
Tight ends coach Kevin Wright had no idea what he was stepping into when he took the position in January.
Thinking he might be focused on helping Hendershot reach the NFL, Wright instead had to first focus on helping Hendershot through his tumultuous offseason.
“We talked about it a lot,” Wright said on Friday. “He took it very seriously that he wants to improve not only as a football player but a young man.”
Now with Wright’s help at least part of the focus is back on football.
Hendershot’s miserable 2020 actually took a turn for the positive when, of all things, the season was postponed for the first time.
Not sure he was physically read to go, Hendershot contemplated opting out of the 2020 season during the summer.
“I’ve never had a bad injury in my entire life, it was very hard,” Hendershot said. “Right when we were about to start the first time, I talked to my coaches about opting out, because I didn’t feel comfortable being out there. But I feel like that delayed time gave me another month to really get my body back to where I needed to be, and I feel really good coming into the season.”
Hendershot has the talent to play on Sundays. A starter in all 13 games, he earned third-team All-Big Ten honors in 2019. He led the country in yards after the catch among power five tight ends with 432.
Now fully healthy after two surgeries and subsequent training and rehabilitation that was complicated by pandemic restrictions, Hendershot is refining his craft as he looks to build on his breakout 2019 season.
What is he working on?
Much like in life, it is about making sure you are doing all the right things.
“Just being a technician,” Hendershot said. “Cleaning up all the little details.”
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