This has been a year of firsts for George Mason junior catcher Chris Henderson, a graduate of Cherokee High School.

Henderson became the school's first-ever first-team all-American in baseball. Officially, he is a member of the Louisville Slugger NCAA Division I all-American team as selected by the staff of College Baseball newspaper.

Henderson was recently named one of three finalists for the Johnny Bench Award that is given to the nation's top catcher and to be announced later this month.

He is also the school's first semifinalist for the Howser Trophy, given to the best player in college baseball.

And soon there will be another first for Henderson - the First Year Major League Player draft. The three-day affair begins on Tuesday.

"It's been an unreal and very exciting year," said Henderson in a phone interview.

It sure has.

Besides his individual honors, Henderson's George Mason team earned a berth in the NCAA Tournament, being eliminated last week by Binghamton, 11-6, in the Greenville, N.C., regional.

Henderson batted .413 this season with 14 home runs, 58 RBIs and 70 runs scored. He played in all 56 games for the 42-14 Patriots, starting 55.

Henderson entered this season with six career home runs, but this year he more than doubled the total.

"It's as good a year as we have ever had in the program," said George Mason coach Bill Brown.

And there is another part of his game that doesn't get mentioned when the awards keep coming, and that is his defense and handling of the pitching staff.

"I don't think he got enough credit for the work he did behind the plate," said George Mason lefthander Mike Modica, a senior from Washington Township who went 11-2 and should also hear his name called in this week's draft.

The draft now becomes the next big moment for Henderson. The 5-foot-11, 203-pounder has been told that he would likely go anywhere from the fifth to the 10th round.

Maybe the Major League teams are looking for somebody who is taller. In baseball, teams often err when they go too much with the tape measure and not enough with whether a person can play. The list of Olympic-type athletes who never could hit a curveball and didn't make it to the Show is a long one.

Henderson realizes he has built up a strong resume this year, and now comes the difficult part - playing the waiting game until the draft begins.

"My lifelong goal has been to play pro baseball," he said. "The draft is going to be nerve-wracking."

Henderson's agent, Brian McCafferty, has spoken to several Major League teams, and he said that his client could be drafted before the fifth round.

It's no surprise that an agent is optimistic about his client's chances. Yet McCafferty insists that he was immediately impressed when seeing Henderson compete at George Mason as a freshman. "You watch certain players who have that 'wow' factor, and that was Chris," McCafferty said.

There is no question that Henderson wowed them his junior season, but he didn't exactly come out of nowhere.

Henderson hit .351 as a freshman, starting 50 games, although he didn't catch much that season. As a sophomore, he batted .339 with five home runs and 41 RBIs in 55 games, all starts.

"His power numbers have come up since he came in the program, and a lot of times that is natural," Brown said. "Where he has made the most progress is behind the plate."

Brown said that any team that drafts Henderson will be as impressed with his overall makeup as his hitting ability.

"He is a flat-out baseball player and has a professional mentality to the game," Brown said.

And soon he will have a professional opportunity, which is all Henderson is asking for and will no doubt be receiving.

Contact staff writer Marc Narducci at 856-779-3225 or mnarducci@phillynews.com.