Finding football: Southeast senior transitions from different country into versatile asset for Raiders

Matt Hamilton/Daily Citizen-News

Southeast Whitfield High School's Henry Vassel finds a gap against Murray County earlier this season in Chatsworth.

Editor's note: This story is featured in the Daily Citizen-News' weekly high school football Touchdown! section. Grab an issue in papers on Fridays during football season, or stop by our office for a copy.

For the better part of Henry Vassel's childhood, he didn't know what football was.

Now the Southeast Whitfield High School senior very rarely comes off the field for the Raiders.

"Where I grew up in Jamaica, no one talks about football," Vassel said. "It's just mostly soccer."

Vassel, a running back and linebacker, moved to the United States with his mother and sister when he was 8. His English was broken, and he admits that was the hardest part of the transition, though he does miss the food of his home country.

When he got into a bit of trouble at Eastbrook Middle School, Vassel was noticed by middle school assistant football coach David Self.

"Coach Self is legendary over there, at least to me he's legendary," Vassel said. "He pulled me out and asked me if I wanted to wrestle for him. I was confused at first, because I didn't know what to do. But I said, 'Yeah, I guess I'll come out.' That was my first time playing sports up here.

"Then I started with football and track, but it all started with wrestling."

Vassel doesn't wrestle anymore, since he decided to dedicate everything he's got to football once he entered high school.

He is dedicated when it comes to football, said Southeast coach Sean Gray.

"He's always around the ball," Gray said. "Some of our biggest hits this year have been from him just taking down ballcarriers. He comes out of nowhere.

"With him and AJ (Miller) splitting time at running back, they both play until exhaustion. Usually when the game is over, we are carrying one of the two off the field because they just play until they have nothing left in the tank. He's just the kind of kid that wherever we have a need, we can put him."

Vassel finished last season with 70 tackles. Through six games this year, he's already surpassed that number. The only thing he wishes was different is his team's record. The Raiders are 0-6, 0-2 in Region 6-4A, and are hoping to change that tonight when they host Gilmer at 7:30 p.m. for homecoming.

The reason Vassel gives everything on the field, he said, is simple.

"It's really just to show the younger ones even though we aren't the best, at least you're doing your part," he said. "That's how I grew up. Even if stuff isn't going your way, you don't give up."

The reason he's able to keep going and going, playing on special teams as well, is pure adrenaline.

"My mind just works very fast," Vassel said. "I'm very hyper, and I can realize things that are going on around me pretty quickly."

"I'm fast, too, so that helps, but after games I feel dead," he added with a smile. "I'm very tired."

Vassel hasn't been back to Jamaica since he left as a child, but he said he hopes to visit sooner rather than later.

"The best food is oxtail," he said. "And jerk chicken."

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