By staying at Michigan, Henson true to word

Stephanie Offen

Off the Record

After the 1993 Michigan football season, running back Tyrone Wheatley passed up a possible multimillion-dollar NFL contract to stay for his senior year.

He had a desire to atone for the four-loss season and eighth-place finish in the Heisman race he experienced as a junior. He had a desire to get a degree in education.

So the All-America running back returned for his fourth year.

But a seemingly noble decision turned sour for the star. A preseason injury caused Wheatley to miss the first three games of the season and dropped him out of Heisman contention. The team finished 8-4 once again, and a trip to the Holiday Bowl wasn't exactly the last hurrah Wheatley sought.

But the current Raiders star took many positives from his decision.

"Living life as a college student is being a grown-up without needing to be a grown-up," Wheatley said in a 1997 interview with The Michigan Daily. "You can do stupid college things and not be accountable for them. It was very fun - days that I definitely loved and miss."

Flash forward to now.

Two prominent figures on the Michigan football team face the same decision.

One decision has been made, one lies ahead.

Friday, quarterback Drew Henson decided to stay at Michigan for his final season. Like Wheatley, Henson had the millions staring him in the face. In fact, Henson had two multimillion-dollar contracts in his future - in baseball and in football.

Just like Wheatley after his junior season, Henson already has two Big Ten titles under his belt.

Like Wheatley, Henson has the potential for injury to consider. Henson missed the first three games of this past season because of a foot injury. And it is quite possible that the multi-sport star could get hurt again.

And like Wheatley, Henson will be among some stiff competition for the Heisman Trophy. Wheatley dropped to 12th in the race his senior season while the trophy went to Colorado running back Rashaan Salaam. Henson wasn't considered a candidate at the beginning of this season because of his injury and will have to compete next season with fellow quarterback Michael Vick and others for the honor.

But unlike Wheatley, Henson doesn't have stars returning around him. Michigan's career-rushing leader, Anthony Thomas, is gone. Michigan's offensive line is virtually gone. And it is likely that David Terrell is gone as well.

Henson also has very little chance to lead his team to his first Rose Bowl. Next season the Rose Bowl will play host to the national championship game. With the starters the Wolverines are losing on offense, it is unlikely that Michigan will be a national title contender for next January.

With all these reasons to leave for the pros, why would Henson, like Wheatley, stay in school?

Because of a reason that overshadows the plethora of others. They came to Michigan to play Michigan football. Wheatley loved college and Henson has shared those sentiments all along.

"I really enjoy going to the University of Michigan," Henson said after Michigan's Citrus Bowl victory on New Year's Day. "It will be a big decision but I am in no hurry to leave ... I enjoy the classes, I enjoy being there."

Even with a $2 million baseball contract in his hands as he graduated high school, Henson insisted that his dream was to play football in Ann Arbor. Another dream of Henson's was to play for the New York Yankees, but George Steinbrenner traded him to the Cincinnati Reds organization this summer perhaps in part because of his loyalty to the Wolverines.

Henson's senior year is his first chance to play a complete season as the starter at Michigan. The defense will be improved and more experienced next season. Even if Terrell leaves, Henson will have a solid group of receivers returning, led by Marquise Walker. Even though Michigan may not be national-title bound, the Wolverines have a solid chance of another Big Ten championship and a BCS bid.

Henson stayed true to his word all along. He had dreamed of playing Michigan football and no matter who or what tried to change his mind, he never swayed. For that he will be a stronger person - and a stronger player.

Originally on page 1B in the 1-8-2001 issue of the Daily.


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