Last weekend was Family Weekend for the University of Pittsburgh. The parents of many players visited Heinz Field for the Panthers’ 43-27 victory over the Marshall Thundering Herd. In light of the family theme, Pittsburgh Sports Now decided to reach out to the parents of two players that held prominent roles in Saturday night’s game: Quadree Henderson and Tre Tipton. But which parents, the fathers or mothers, would provide the best quotes about their child?
The mothers, of course.
As luck would have it, the mothers of both Quadree and Tre were in attendance Saturday. Jackie Henderson and Kim Tipton each got to watch impressive and versatile performances by their sons. They were both also more than willing to discuss what it is like to watch their children play for Pitt, and how their sons have made it this far.
For Jackie Henderson, she witnessed Quadree contribute as a runner, receiver, and return man—just as he has done all season. The 5’8” 190 pound sophomore receiver registered 7 rushes for 57 yards, 3 receptions for 32 yards, and 1 kick return for 23 yards. Performances like this make it “exciting” for Quadree’s mother, and family, to attend his games.
“It’s so exciting. It’s really so exciting. Quadree’s been playing since he was 5. I didn’t know much about the game, then. I actually didn’t want him to play because I was scared, and he was always the smaller guy. It’s so exciting now to see him on the field.”
Quadree’s display against Marshall helped him maintain his spot atop the FBS in total all-purpose yards-per-game (although he now shares the lead with Charles Nelson of Oregon). While Quadree’s talents are no secret to his mother, his rapid ascension towards becoming one of college football’s most dynamic playmakers is somewhat unexpected.
“No, I didn’t know it was going to happen exactly like it did. I mean, I’m very aware of what Quadree is capable of doing. We’ve watched him do it for many, many years. I think this year he’s just had the opportunity to actually show it.”
Jackie recognizes that her son has been blessed with natural athleticism from birth. Quadree’s speed earned him the nickname “Gingerbread Man” while playing youth football, since opponents could seemingly never catch him. Such ability helped Quadree succeed not only in football, but at baseball and track as well. However, it is the work ethic instilled by his parents, along with the skills developed while working with hometown trainer Damon Daniels, that drives his success.
“I would say it’s hard work as well. His speed, I think, is a natural ability. He’s been quick pretty much all his life. He’s been playing football since the age of 5. He’s always been that fast kid.” Jackie adds, “Even when Quadree comes home now, if he can get in contact with Damon, and Damon has some open time, Quadree’s up there running routes, or he reaches back out to the kids at his old high school and they’re up at the field at [Alex I. du Pont] high and they’re running routes there.”
When Quadree is not honing his physical skills or playing football, Jackie describes her son as a “very laid back” and “observant” young man. Football does not leave his mind for very long, though. Quadree will often be found training his mind by watching tape when he isn’t training his body. This is no surprise to Jackie, since her son demonstrated a precocious understanding of football while he was still very young. At the age of 6, Quadree started drawing up plays before Jackie truly understood his passion for the sport.
“I remember him drawing what I know now are plays. To me, then, they were just X’s and O’s, and I would just ball them up and put them in the trash like he was wasting paper.”
Luckily, this misunderstanding did not deter Quadree’s appetite for football. According to Jackie, her son’s sport—his passion—has always been football; and she prays that should her son continue to build upon his success, football will remain his focus for many years to come.
“My hopes and my prayers are that it continues on the level that it is, and that he excels. And his biggest dream is always to get to the NFL.”
Quadree’s teammate and fellow 2015 enrollee, Tre Tipton, also contributed in the run and passing games on Saturday. While Quadree hit the ground running in 2016, Tre Tipton started slowly, but has seen his role increase each week. On Family Weekend, Tre’s mother, Kim Tipton, saw his most impressive performance to date. In addition to an explosive 21-yard run, Kim and her family were present to witness a seminal moment in any player’s collegiate career: the first touchdown. Tre Tipton, a 6’0” 190 pound redshirt freshman from Apollo Ridge High School, found the end zone for the first time as a Panther on a 15-yard reception.
“I couldn’t even describe the happiness that I had for us, and for him, because we’ve been waiting a long time for that ball. There’s many more to come.”
Tre played sparingly in 2015 before suffering a week four season-ending knee injury in practice. Due to the limited playing time in his freshman season, Tre received a medical redshirt while rehabilitating his knee. Almost all players are well acquainted with injury by the time they reach the collegiate level. However, not all players are familiarized with having to earn back their playing time upon return.
“I mean, I was really sad for him. I think it was a humbling experience for Tre, though,” Kim said. “He never had to come back from an injury and compete, because at Apollo he was that star so when he came back from an injury he automatically went back into his spot.”
The injury fortuitously forced Tre to confront a lesson that his mother delivered before he departed Apollo, PA for his hometown school, the University of Pittsburgh.
“When he went to school, I told him, ‘Now is the time for you to be selfish.’ Because Tre is a very team-oriented person, so he will sit on the back burner for the good of the team. He had to learn to think about Tre, too. And he never had to be in that position where someone was trying to take his spot, or the next person was going to step up. So that was very humbling and he needed to see that.”
Having teammates that possess the talent necessary to unseat a player of Tre’s talent was certainly a new experience for Kim’s son. As she revealed, it was far from his first bout with adversity, though.
“Tre came from a small town and he has worked extremely hard to get where he is with a lot of people telling him that he was never going to make it going to Apollo Ridge. A lot of schools wanted him to come play for them that were Quad A.”
The Tipton family was forced to contemplate whether or not Apollo Ridge High School could help Tre achieve his goals in football. It was not until they received advice from Kim’s cousin, a member of the Denver Bronco’s staff, that Tre and his family decided where he would play his high school football.
“My cousin [Joey Woods] is a defensive coach for Denver… and the one thing he told me was, ‘Leave him where he is comfortable. Leave him where the fans are going to be behind him.’ And that’s what Apollo did for us.”
The decision to remain at Apollo Ridge did not impede Tre’s development as a player. In his senior year, Tre was named to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette’s “Fab 22” team, and he earned a scholarship offer to play at his hometown school. To this day, Kim recalls Tre’s journey every time he takes the field for the blue and gold.
“I have that excitement. You would think I actually was playing in the game. I get that nervous feeling the day before the game, and that anxiety. It’s for him – not that I’m afraid that he’s going to get hurt. But just the excitement that he has worked so hard to get where he is, and he’s there. And he did it regardless of how many people told him he wasn’t. So my pride… it melts my heart to see him out there.”
She has had to make some adjustments to how she watches Tre’s games, though. As it turns out, having a son that plays FBS football for the University of Pittsburgh comes with new restrictions.
“The only thing I can’t do is run on the field now when he gets hurt like I did in high school, because I don’t want to be on ESPN. And he doesn’t want me to, because he said I’m going to be on that show Come On Man.”
To no surprise, Jackie Henderson and Kim Tipton are both very proud parents that could speak about their sons for much longer than any interview could ask. It was a pleasure to talk to the mothers that helped mold Quadree and Tre into the players they have become today. While the second-year players are currently at slightly different stages of their careers, they share one very important detail in common: both of their mothers agree that their sons made the correct decision when selecting Pitt.
“I’m very happy with his decision,” said Jackie Henderson. “He had a few choices, and he chose Pitt even going through the changes with the coaches. Quadree had already committed when Chryst was still there, and the opportunity opened back up, and there were other coaches still contacting him once Chryst was leaving, telling Quadree the door was still open if he wanted to change his mind. Me and my husband sat down and spoke with him, and Quadree was just very gung-ho on going to Pitt. He didn’t pick Pitt because of a coach. He liked the area. He liked what the school has to offer. He liked the program, the football history.”
Kim’s response was quite similar.
“I’m happy that Tre’s there. I’m comfortable with the coaching staff. And I am a true Pitt fan. And I love him being there.” Kim adds, “When we went down to Pitt, he was comfortable the whole time… He’s doing it for his city that he loves, versus going away where people don’t know him. We’re happy. I love Narduzzi. I love all the coaches there. It feels comfortable for him, it feels comfortable for us, and I wouldn’t want him anywhere else.
Between the on-field performances of Quadree Henderson and Tre Tipton, and the insight provided by their mothers, it is clear that the Pitt Panthers have two talented and determined young receivers on their roster that will be worth following for, at the very least, the next few years.