The Michigan quarterback, a two-sport star, has a tough decision after today's Citrus Bowl.
By GREG AUMAN
© St. Petersburg Times, published January 1, 2001
ORLANDO -- For Drew Henson, today's Citrus Bowl represents the culmination of months of hard work in his first season as Michigan's starting quarterback. What it will represent to him a month from now is anyone's guess.
It could be a springboard to a 2001 Heisman campaign. It could be his final college football game. Or it could be his final football game, period.
As Henson prepares for today's 1 p.m. kickoff against Auburn, the coveted two-sport star knows the game's outcome will factor in the biggest decision of his young career.
Should he give up football to focus on baseball, the sport in which he set a national high school record with 70 career home runs and could make the Cincinnati Reds' major-league roster next season? Should he return to Michigan for his senior year? Or should he leave early for the NFL, where he is projected as a high first-round pick?
"I know the timetable is winding down," Henson said Friday. "As far as making a decision, I'm not at that point yet. I had much too much fun playing football here this year to think about not giving that my best shot just as I have with baseball. I really enjoyed myself this fall, so nothing's for certain."
After two years as a backup, Henson entered the fall as Michigan's starter but missed the first month after foot surgery in August. Despite a porous defense that allowed five opponents to amass 500 yards, Henson led the Wolverines to a share of the Big Ten crown.
Michigan's losses have hardly been Henson's fault. He was injured for a September loss to UCLA, and in a 54-51 loss to Northwestern, he threw for four touchdowns, 312 yards and no interceptions. In a 32-31 loss to Purdue, he threw for three more scores, completing 26 of 35 passes for 256 yards. He went six games and 193 passes before throwing his first interception.
"It hasn't been easy by any means," Henson said. "Our record might not be the best that it's been, but I think a lot of the guys take a lot of satisfaction out of the difficult times we've had and the way we came back and won a piece of the Big Ten title."
First-year offensive coordinator Stan Parrish has seen Henson make progress throughout the season, both in technique and leadership.
"We knew we had to be patient with him, because he was still a young quarterback," Parrish said. "He went through a gantlet of good defenses in the Big Ten, went through the learning curve as a starter with the expectations and pressure of it all, but he was up to it. He's made tremendous progress, and his confidence is very high."
His season statistics -- 1,852 yards, 16 touchdowns and four interceptions, a 60.3 completion percentage -- combined with a 6-foot-4, 220-pound frame, have scouts drooling. ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. rates Henson second among underclassman quarterbacks, behind Virginia Tech's Michael Vick. Michigan coach Lloyd Carr has said that if Henson enters the draft, he should be the first quarterback chosen.
Henson, 20, isn't the only Michigan junior coveted by the NFL. Wide receiver David Terrell is expected to be a top-five pick if he skips his senior year, and it wouldn't be the first time the two were a package deal. After Henson committed to the Wolverines as a junior in high school, he helped recruit Terrell to Ann Arbor, and the two became close friends during the past three years, along with receiver Marquise Walker.
"For David, myself and Marquis coming in together, we want to go out with a bang, if indeed this is the last time we're all together," Henson said. "It makes you want to go out there and put everything together."
Henson has seen other high-profile two-sport quarterbacks face the decision he faces. Florida's Doug Johnson gave up baseball before his senior year to focus on football, and he played for the NFL's Atlanta Falcons this season. Miami's Kenny Kelly gave up football before his senior year to focus on baseball, and he reached the major leagues with the Devil Rays this fall.
"Each guy's personal situation is different. ... I've looked at what they've done, and those are two routes where each guy has been successful," he said. "That's really what I want to do, to put myself in position where I can do good things."
And like FSU's Chris Weinke, Henson has a large signing bonus from baseball, so money won't be the deciding factor it often is with underclassmen pondering a leap to the NFL.
"I'm in a great situation where, regardless of what I pick, chances are I'm going to be successful and enjoy what I'm doing," he said. "It's just giving up the other sport that's going to be difficult, but I've known that day was coming for a long time. I'm trying to enjoy every day at practice, enjoy this last game, then go out and enjoy baseball. I'm not sure when they'll be gone, but I want to make sure I've gotten the most out of it."