FARGO, N.D. -- Some go out on top, but rarely like James Hendricks.
“Going out as a national champion and with my senior class will be something I’ll never forget,” Hendricks said. “What transpired and how it actually happened, I don’t think it could have ended any better. There’s definitely no other game that could have matched that.”
Hendricks, a 2015 Bemidji High School graduate and a safety on the North Dakota State football team, cemented his Bison legacy during the 2020 FCS title game. He scored his first career touchdown on a 20-yard fake field goal run, and, what’s more, he later clinched the victory with an interception on a last-minute goal-line stand.
Among the NDSU faithful, the legend of “Jimmy Football” grew into Paul Bunyan-sized status that day. But, as it turns out, that play at the pylon will be the final tale of his folklore.
“The way it ended definitely helps me call that my last go-around,” Hendricks said. “I love the game and I’ll probably get into coaching at some point, but my playing career, it was time to be done. … Now that it’s all said and done, I’m moving forward and not worried about it. I’m happy I made the decision I did.”
Hendricks drew interest from a number of NFL teams prior to last week’s draft. He even spent about two weeks preparing for North Dakota State’s Pro Day. But after further contemplation, and counsel from his parents, Hendricks and his self-described banged-up body were content with calling it a career.
“My parents supported me through everything,” he said. “We decided pretty much that, if it was good with me, then it was fine (to retire). There was no shame in stopping, especially with the way it ended.”
No shame indeed.
Hendricks collected four national championship rings during his five years in the program. According to Pro Football Focus, his 92.6 cover grade was the highest among all Division I safeties with at least 300 snaps. And he was projected as a late-round pick in the draft or an undrafted free agent target.
But he simply didn’t feel the need to push any further.
“It kind of gets ingrained in your mind, especially when you’re in the football environment, that, ‘OK, you’re good enough. You need to go,’” Hendricks said of pursuing the NFL. “But there are so many other decisions that go into it. Once I became OK with those decisions and I was willing to live with them and move on, I was OK.”
But that doesn’t mean he wasn’t tuned in to the draft.
“I spent all day Saturday watching the draft with (defensive end) Derrek Tuszka,” Hendricks said of his Bison teammate, a Denver Broncos’ seventh-round pick. Tight end Ben Ellefson (Jacksonville) and offensive lineman Zack Johnson (Green Bay) also signed as UDFAs. “Seeing how much it means to those guys, that was so cool. … I’m rooting for all of them, and also guys like Easton (Stick), people who are already in the NFL who I’m close with. I’m hoping for the best for all those guys, definitely.”
Hendricks now works as a financial adviser at Northwestern Mutual in Fargo, where he’s also running the internship program he participated in last year. His future with the company excites him, and he’s hopeful to make a career of it.
So, from now on, you’ll have to rely on all the old stories about Jimmy Football. And it’ll be up to you whether or not to believe in such tall tales.
“For it to end like that, it was incredible,” Hendricks said. “I’ll never forget it.”