The faith, family and 'football genius' driving Patriots touchdown machine Hunter Henry

Hunter Henry of the New England Patriots. Maddie Malhotra/Getty Images

An excitable voice booms through the speakers, emanating from the Patriots' media room in Foxborough. The words spoken are familiar. So too the accent, well somewhat.

"G'day mate!" Amusingly, it isn't New England's Australian communications coordinator, rather star tight-end Hunter Henry.

The 26-year-old touchdown machine bounces into picture with a smile as wide as the nearby Charles River. It isn't long before Henry returns to his native tongue, though his exuberance remains. Henry has reason to be gleeful in this moment - his move from the beaches of California to the "brutal" cold of Massachusetts is paying off immeasurably. Even if it means wearing a beanie in December.

On the gridiron, Henry is almost peerless at his position. Heading into Week 13, the former Charger leads the league in touchdowns by a tight end - tied with Buffalo's Dawson Knox. Since Rob Gronkowski announced his initial retirement in March 2019, the Patriots have lacked a red zone threat capable of scaring defenses stiff. Now, the fear factor is back in New England and Henry is undoubtedly a key reason why.

As the question grows, so too does Henry's smirk. "Do you feel like anyone can guard you in the red zone?" His answer; as quick as it is emphatic: "I don't feel like anyone can guard me, ever! You've got to have that mindset, always."

Henry isn't the only Patriot with an unshakable confidence - it's easy to understand why. New England are a seemingly unstoppable force, currently on a six-game winning streak and sitting atop the AFC East with an 8-4 record. Once again, they look primed for a playoff assault.

Though it wasn't too long ago things were very different. At the end of last season, the Pats were mired in misery, mocked incessantly for Tom Brady's departure, their momentary downfall -- finishing last season 7-9 -- and of course, Tampa Bay's Brady-led Super Bowl victory.

Despite the outside noise, Bill Belichick's belief hasn't wavered in himself nor the team - not since Henry arrived anyway. Despite a matter-of-fact approach in front of the camera, there's a different Belichick behind closed doors.

"You don't become the greatest coach of all time really in this sport, without having a little bit of swag," Henry tells ESPN. "A little bit of you know, chip about him. He just kind of has that quiet confidence, that he knows who he is and he's very confident in that."

Henry undoubtedly believes in his head coach, evidenced in his big-money move from Los Angeles during free agency, in spite of the Pats' disappointing 2020 season. The pair have known each other for many years, with Belichick a friend of Henry's high school coach.

Despite their familiarity with one another, Henry has found himself surprised at the sheer greatness of the six-time Super Bowl-winning coach.

"He's a football genius, man," Henry beams. "It's cool to be around someone that loves football so much and has seen so much football, especially at the highest level and winning Super Bowls too, he knows how to get things done and knows how to put his players in the best position, knows how to motivate them in the best way.

"So it's been really cool to see the standard he holds everybody to and how he gets the best out of everybody."

It's often said there's a different expectation in New England. A unique way of operating, a higher set of standards to uphold. How true is it? According to Henry, it checks out. While the Chargers propelled him forward, there's a sense New England will lift him to greater heights.

"I think it's just the team atmosphere, the 'Do Your Job' atmosphere," he says. "Everybody has their role and you do your role. That's similar around the league but here it's very preached. It's preached every single day to do your job, trust the guys around you and believe in the team and everything that this team means. Everybody's basically one body and we need all of the parts of the body to come together to execute what we do on Sundays."

Henry himself is merely a body - flesh and blood like anyone else. It may seem absurd to define him so simply but that's how he views himself. Scoring at will for New England, pursuing a first Super Bowl ring and becoming the best he can are all of great importance. Yet it is Henry's faith which makes him feel complete, more than skin and bone, more than a vessel sailing through life.

"I'm here and I'm playing football but I'm more than a football player man, there's so much more to me than what I am," Henry shared. "The main thing that I am is God's son and I'm a believer and I hope that Jesus came and died for our sins. I have a lot of faith [in] who God is and who he is in my life."

Many across America, and certainly Arkansas, dream of being Hunter Henry. Ironically, Henry tries to become less of himself. "He must become greater; I must become less," John 3:30 - eight words by which Henry lives his life.

"It's just a simple verse that means so much," he says. "It can mean so much in a football realm too, you know in a team realm. I think there's so many applications [for] a simple quote like that; to be humbled, to be humbled before God, to be humbled before your teammates, to be humbled before just everybody.

"That you're not bigger than anybody, that He needs to be the light before everything, and it applies to everything in my life. I think that's where faith kind of carries into your life, just applying those things on a daily basis."

Three F's -- faith, family and football -- have served Henry well for many years. They continue to be pillars for him and even more so once wife Parker gives birth to their first child this month. Make no mistake, Henry is more than committed to football. It's his life, but far from all of it.

"My 'why' here is to serve a bigger purpose," he says. "I like to worship God through my play. Hopefully I show a light in some aspect of my play and how I live my life. My family is big for me, my wife motivates me more than anybody in this world, just how hardworking and independent and just gracious and everything she is in my life. She's definitely one of my biggest 'why's. And then I have my little son coming next month, so I know once I lay eyes on him that'll be right there with her."

Once football season comes to a close, Henry likes to return to Arkansas, immersing himself in all nature has to offer. He loves the beautiful beaches of L.A. but they are few and far between in The Natural State, so hunting is what Henry does. Deer season often passes him by, so he settles for ducks.

For now, Henry has linebackers in his sights as he looks to help New England attain another Lombardi Trophy. Opposing fans may believe God is a Patriots fan, given their seemingly never-ending dynasty. Whether that is the case remains unsolved, though Henry is optimistic Jesus enjoys his work in the end zone.

"I hope so man," Henry says with a chuckle. "I'm doing my best out there for Him. I think he would be definitely proud, but hey the thing with Him is, he's going to be proud with whatever you do- scoring touchdowns [or] no touchdowns. Like what we talked about man, it's unwavering. It never changes."

While Henry will have to wait for eternal paradise, he has every opportunity to propel New England to seventh heaven come February 13.