Henry stands with his proud parents, Beverly and Menocal.

Henry Embodies The Spirit Of Toronto

At first, you are struck by his youth. Doneil Henry is just 17 years old and when it came time to speak at his own press conference, the enormity of the moment threatened to overwhelm him.

The first-ever graduate of the Toronto FC Academy is just a kid. But a new contract means Henry is on the big club’s roster and signals what team officials hope will be a flood of talent delivered by its development arm.

RELATED: Henry thanks Academy coaches

The face of all this progress is a defender who embodies the spirit of the city. Beverly and Menocal Henry came to Toronto from Jamaica a couple of decades ago. She works as a general manager of a Wendy’s. He drives a truck for The Brick. These are working people whose son was kicked outdoors when his irrepressible energy began to threaten the walls of the family home in Brampton.

“Doneil started soccer when he was about ten,” Beverly said. “We thought it would be good to find an activity for him so we enrolled him in house league soccer. When we spoke to the coach at the end of the year, he said he was glad to have Doneil but next year we should put him in rep.”

It has not been a series of uninterrupted successes. Two years ago, Doneil was cut by a provincial team. He was devastated. “He had tears running down his face,” said Beverly, “and I said ‘Doneil, you don’t have to do this. Play sports for fun. But he said, ‘Mom, I have a passion for this. I want to play for Toronto FC’.”

No one witnessed that conversation with his parents, but that step was every bit as important as any of the ones that led him to the microphones yesterday.

Henry said his parents infused him with a sense of optimism as well as a work ethic.

“Just because one door closes, it doesn’t mean another opportunity won’t come true,” said Toronto’s newest player. “I had to keep pushing for what I wanted.”

Henry said he is ready to be a trailblazer not because he is so great but because the people surrounding him are.

“I’m prepared because I know the people around me.  If I am going through a hard time I know there are people around me who can pick me up. I have my family who is there for me.”

“I think his family structure is very, very important and has a very good support system,” said Academy senior team coach Jason Bent.
“The other side is temperament. You can see when he came into the first team environment, he seems fearless. You want that youthful exuberance. He will go in and show what he has. Sometimes he will make mistakes, but his teammates will guide him through.”

The Academy has operated for just two-and-a-half seasons. Players from points inside and outside the Greater Toronto Area split their days between training, conditioning and school.  The Academy system provides a development operation for the MLS club and unearths players who are significantly less expensive to acquire than draft choices and free agents. The league favors the Academy system by allowing two roster spots for Academy players that do not count against the overall complement.

“This is a very big day for Toronto FC,” said manager and director of soccer Mo Johnston. “When we started the Academy – this is what we ultimately wanted to accomplish - bring a young player on board and into the first team.”

Recently Henry started a CONCACAF Champions League Qualifying match against Montagua in Honduras August 3. Prior to that he started and played a full 90 minutes June 2 in the team’s Nutrilite Canadian Championship game versus Vancouver. He started and played 77 minutes in Toronto’s Carlsberg Cup friendly with English Premier League outfit Bolton Wanderers.