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Pitt return specialist Quadree Henderson still a bear for opponents

Jerry DiPaola
| Sunday, Nov. 5, 2017, 7:12 p.m.

Leave it to Pitt special teams coach Andre Powell to use logic — and a joke — to explain Quadree Henderson's elusiveness when returning punts.

“He's fast,” Powell said.

That's it?

“We greased him down and put some bear grease on him,” Powell said. “They couldn't get their hands on him.”

Powell is an avid fishermen, but he's no expert on bear grease. Encyclopedia.com reports North American Indians used it to keep their hair smooth and shiny.

Powell said bear grease came to him during a recent chat with reporters because it is mentioned in a book he's reading. So, he really doesn't use it on Henderson, which should come as a relief to his family. Bear grease is, in fact, fat from a bear.

Henderson said he doesn't need help from a bear to return punts.

“If he said it's bear grease, it's bear grease,” Henderson said, smiling. “I just feel like it's speed and agility.”

And strength.

Henderson said he broke seven tackles on his most recent punt return for a touchdown, 75 yards against Virginia. It was his second of the season.

He has seven in three seasons, which at the time put him one off the NCAA record until Washington's Dante Pettis recorded his ninth punt return touchdown Saturday against Oregon.

Records aside, Pitt (4-5, 2-3) needs as much offense as it can get from a variety of sources for its final three games. After meeting North Carolina (1-8, 0-6 ACC) on Thursday night at Heinz Field, Pitt closes the season at No. 17 Virginia Tech (7-2, 3-2) and at home against No. 7 Miami (8-0, 6-0), the likely Coastal Division champion.

Henderson remains a threat in the Pitt offense, but he set a high bar in 2016 that turned out to be difficult to top. His numbers are down in several areas this season.

Defenses are catching on to the jet sweep, and he's rushed for only 160 yards after amassing 631 and five touchdowns in 2016.

The jet sweeps remain a threat, even as a decoy. Henderson said he noticed the Duke defense leaning his way when he went in motion, opening a huge hole for Darrin Hall's two long touchdown runs.

“Three guys are coming with me, and he has (only) eight people to get away from,” he said. “The safety, the linebacker and a corner all looked at me, thinking I had the ball. Carrying out all my fakes sprung D-Hall on both of those big runs.

“I'm never a selfish player. I do whatever I have to do to get my teammates open for us to win.”

The next challenge for Pitt is to regain the momentum of its current two-game winning streak after an idle weekend.

Pitt is 0-4 against North Carolina since joining the ACC, but the games have been close. The Tar Heels have won by margins of seven (twice), five and one.

“We owe them one,” Henderson said.

Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

Pitt's Qudree Henderson returns a punt for a second-quarter touchdown against Virginia on Saturday, Oct. 28, 2017, at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt's Qudree Henderson returns a punt for a second-quarter touchdown against Virginia on Saturday, Oct. 28, 2017, at Heinz Field.
Pitt Quadree Henderson gets around Youngstown State's Lee Wright in the first quarter Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017 at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt Quadree Henderson gets around Youngstown State's Lee Wright in the first quarter Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017 at Heinz Field.
Pitt's Quadree Henderson runs the ball against Penn State in the first quarter  Saturday, Sept. 9, 2017, at Beaver Stadium.
Christian Tyler Randolph | Tribune-Review
Pitt's Quadree Henderson runs the ball against Penn State in the first quarter Saturday, Sept. 9, 2017, at Beaver Stadium.
PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 28: Quadree Henderson #10 of the Pittsburgh Panthers returns a punt for a 75 yard touchdown in the second quarter during the game against the Virginia Cavaliers at Heinz Field on October 28, 2017 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)
Getty Images
PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 28: Quadree Henderson #10 of the Pittsburgh Panthers returns a punt for a 75 yard touchdown in the second quarter during the game against the Virginia Cavaliers at Heinz Field on October 28, 2017 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)
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