. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Cooper Henderson watches the Bulldog defense alongside quarterback Justin Houghtaling during a 2015 Class 5A state semifinal game at Bulldog Bowl. (Brienne Green - Daily Press)

Cooper Henderson watches the Bulldog defense alongside quarterback Justin Houghtaling during a 2015 Class 5A state semifinal game at Bulldog Bowl. (Brienne Green – Daily Press)

Artesia High School head football coach Cooper Henderson has always been quick to deflect attention from himself.

Words like “dynasty” and “legacy” don’t sit well with him, and if you ask for his personal records, his honest answer is that he doesn’t know them. He just doesn’t keep up with that sort of thing.

Henderson doesn’t deal in wins and losses, or even the number of blue trophies in the heavily laden case at Bulldog Bowl. His is ultimately a labor of love – of the game, the community of Artesia, his fellow coaches, and, above all, the young men whose lives he impacts.

Along the way, he has compiled a set of statistics any coach would envy. An overall record of 293-103-1. Sixteen state championship appearances since taking the helm at Artesia High in 1989 – 14 of which resulted in titles.

Another word Henderson doesn’t put much stock in is “legendary,” but that’s what he’s become in the annals of New Mexico high school football. And as a reflection, he was named Wednesday afternoon as the National Federation of State High School Associations’ National Coach of the Year for 2015.

“When a team does well, the quarterback gets a lot of credit, and I feel like, with an award like this, the head coach gets a lot of credit when there’s really – particularly in Artesia – lots of people involved in that picture of success,” Henderson said today. “But no doubt when your own coaches’ association nominates you for and feels like you deserve an honor like this, you’re proud. And I am very proud to receive this.”

One adjective the coach might not mind is “respected.” Henderson inspires a deep sense of admiration not only from the coaches he works with daily but those throughout the state. They cite him frequently as the type of coach they aspire to be, not only for the tradition of success he has been able to build with the Artesia program but for the quality boys that comprise it – boys that move on to become quality men.

Bulldog football players past and present credit Henderson for helping to shape their lives both on and off the field. For teaching them discipline, work ethics, accountability and integrity – along with likely the best understanding of football of any players in the state.

Henderson stresses that’s a job he couldn’t do alone.

“All the assistant coaches do just as much in guiding and working with this team as anyone,” he said. “When you look at all the support you get here, whether it’s the administration or the Quarterback Club, the media or the community itself – when you receive an honor like this, you definitely give a lot of credit to all those people.

“In my mind, this is more or less a community recognition at a higher level, and that’s what I would like to think of it as.”

Henderson was nominated for the award by Buster Mabrey and the New Mexico High School Coaches’ Association and expressed gratitude to the association for the honor and their work on behalf of New Mexico high school athletes.

“I really just hope people see this as an honor for our school and this city,” Henderson said. “And personally, I’ve been blessed with having a wife and a family who’ve been very supportive.”

And, of course, Henderson’s attention ultimately settles upon those he’s dedicated an impressive career to: the players themselves.

“The bottom line is that we’ve been really blessed with a lot of great young men through the years who’ve been willing to work and want to be successful.”