Henry, 30, of Frostproof, Fla., was arrested by federal drug agents last October — just a few months after the running back’s release from the Denver Broncos.
He pleaded guilty in April to a single count of trafficking cocaine. In handing down Wednesday’s sentence, U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull in Billings also gave Henry five years of probation upon his release and recommended he enter a 500-hour drug treatment program.
Henry has said that at the time of his arrest, he was struggling to keep up with child support payments after fathering at least nine children with nine women. But Cebull said it was Henry’s addiction to marijuana that destroyed the defendant’s career and ultimately landed him in federal court.
“This is a unique case in that you’re a unique individual. You’re a heck of a football player,” Cebull said. “You are not unique in this sense: your drug habit.”
Clad in a blue prison jumpsuit and wearing handcuffs, Henry apologized to the court and said his criminal actions did not reflect his true self.
“If given the chance, I want to tell kids around the world that using drugs and abusing drugs isn’t the way,” he said.
He had faced a possible 10 years to life in prison and a $4 million fine. Cebull waived the fine because he said Henry could not afford it.
Henry rose from a childhood of poverty — his single mother picked oranges for a living — to become a record setting running back at the University of Tennessee.
He was drafted into the NFL in 2001 and joined the Broncos two years ago. His descent from the pinnacle of professional sports to federal inmate took just 13 months, beginning with his release last June from the Denver Broncos.
Just one season into a four-year, $22.5 million contract, Henry was cut following allegations of drug use and a perceived lack of commitment.
With his income gone, Henry turned to the drug trade in part to cover his mounting child support payments, according to court documents and testimony.
That criminal career proved brief.
A driver moving cocaine for Henry from Denver to Billings was arrested last September in Montana and quickly agreed to turn federal informant. That person later helped authorities set up a sting operation against Henry and his co-defendant, James Mack.
Two weeks later, as Henry was leaving a Denver-area apartment with 6 kilograms of cocaine, the authorities moved in. Henry attempted to run but was chased down and caught after a short pursuit.
In court briefs filed prior to his sentencing, Henry’s defense attorneys asked for leniency for their client and argued that he turned to drug trafficking only out of desperation. They say he went into a “downward spiral” after losing $40,000 in drug proceeds that were stolen from a house in Billings.
Following his arrest, Henry initially was released on $400,000 bond. He was jailed after being arrested again in Florida in May, for violating the terms of his release by drinking alcohol.
Sentencing for his co-defendant — Mack, 29, of Bow Mar, Colo. — is set for July 24 before Judge Cebull.