The 18-year-old kid can sit in his bedroom in Brighton, Mich.,
or in his hotel room in Tampa, or--in a couple of weeks--his
dorm room in Ann Arbor, Mich., and type his name on a computer.
D-r-e-w H-e-n-s-o-n. He then can click on the SEARCH icon and
the little Yahoo! engine will run around cyberspace for a moment
and come back with the results, and once again the kid can be
Check it out. There are 161,256 matches--last count--for Drew
Henson. They are not all necessarily about him, because the
engine picks up some other Hensons and some other Drews along
the way, but the bulk of them are. He can click and click again
and a rush of nouns, verbs, adjectives and numbers will arrive,
detailing his games, his accomplishments, his adolescent life.
He can even stare at his own picture as it appears on the screen.
"It's interesting sometimes," he says. "You can read what people
are saying about you. Read a story in The Sporting News, USA
Today, someplace else.... Sometimes you read things and you say,
'Where'd they get that story?'"
Will he be the starting quarterback as a freshman for defending
national co-champion Michigan when its season opens on Sept. 5
at Notre Dame? Some of the stories say this could happen. Yes,
it could. Will he be the next young star in New York Yankees
pinstripes, a power-hitting third baseman who someday could be
trying to bring Roger Maris's record back home to the Bronx?
Other stories say this could happen. Could he have passed on the
football scholarship and done something else? Could he have gone
in the first round of the June baseball draft as a fastball
pitcher, a 95-mph strikeout wonder? Could he have gone to a
Division I college as a blue-chip basketball recruit, possibly
as a two guard? Could. Could. Could.
August 2, 1998
There was a time when an athletic phenom from high school
arrived quietly, a rumor wrapped in a pile of clippings from a
local newspaper and accompanied by a wink from a recruiter's
eye. That time has passed. The phenom now is a bright light in
the electronic sky, tracked relentlessly by forecasters as if he
were a hurricane heading toward a coastal town. Where will he
land? What will he do? One Web site, mu.mlive.com, already has a
Drew Henson page, a tribute, with stories, stats from the Ann
Arbor News and a fat headline that calls him MICHIGAN'S GOLDEN
"Do you know how there are all the stories these days about
what's going to happen when Michael Jordan retires?" asks Mark
Carrow, Henson's baseball coach at Brighton High. "About how
there's going to be a void, an absence of superstars? I think
Drew Henson is the one who can fill it, who can stand on that
kind of pedestal. I honestly believe that."
Eighteen years old. Is this scary, or what? He probably is
Michigan's most heralded in-state football recruit in history.
("The best ever?" the mu.mlive site asks.) He signed a contract
with the New York Yankees last week that will give him a $2
million bonus for playing pro baseball only during the summers.
If he leaves college at any time or decides to play baseball
after graduation, he will receive another $2.7 million, making
his signing bonus the second-highest for a rookie in the history
of the game.
Eighteen. And this is only the beginning.
"I worked out with the Yankees a couple of weeks ago, when we
were starting negotiations, and they were playing in Tampa," the
kid says, describing his latest amazement. "I took some swings,
ran in the outfield, came back to the dugout and sat down. I
looked up and there was a circle of reporters around me. And I
hadn't even done anything yet."
The immediate interest might be that he is 6'5", 220 pounds,
still growing, and that he set national high school career
records for home runs (70), grand slams (10), RBIs (290) and
runs scored (250). That he was 40-7 as a pitcher and struck out
528 batters in 285 2/3 innings. That he threw 52 touchdown
passes, six in one game against Hartland in 1997. That he
averaged 22 points in basketball, and on and on...a 4.0 student,
co-valedictorian. But these are only the latest results. He
always has been front and center in whatever he has done.
"When he was 11, playing for his Little League all-star team in
Utah, he hit seven home runs in seven consecutive at bats,"
Drew's father, Dan, says. "I remember a woman suggested to my
wife, Carol, that maybe this was something that SPORTS
ILLUSTRATED might be interested in for FACES IN THE CROWD. Carol
wrote a little letter and sent it off. A month later we got a
letter back saying something like 'Congratulations on your
accomplishment, but, sorry, it's not good enough for FACES IN
THE CROWD.' I remember thinking, Gee, I don't know, seven home
runs in seven at bats seems pretty good to me."
The family genes suggested some chance of success at the start.
Dan was an athlete and a coach, Carol was an athlete and a
coach. They met at Central Michigan, where Dan played defensive
back on the football team and Carol won seven varsity letters,
in basketball, volleyball and track. They were off on the
traditional Chutes 'n' Ladders path of college coaching, five
houses or apartments in six years by the time Drew was born. (He
has lived in 14 houses in 18 years.) The lessons of athletics
began almost as soon as he could talk. Maybe even before.
"He was always with us," Dan says of the older of their two kids.
"We'd eat dinner, and Carol would talk about her day with her
team and I would talk about my day with my team. We would talk
about the kids who were succeeding and what they were doing. We'd
also talk about the kids who could be doing better but were
messing up. I think Drew learned almost by osmosis. It wasn't
like we had to tell him things directly. He knew how much work
goes into success."
Dan was hoping to land in the NFL as an assistant, or maybe a
head coach, someday. He thought the best route was by learning
the intricacies of the passing offense and by coaching
quarterbacks. This took him from tiny Hope College in Holland,
Mich., (where he was a football assistant and Carol was women's
basketball coach), to San Jose State, to Utah, to Arizona State
and finally, in 1995, to Eastern Michigan.
Drew was along for all of this, a ball boy on the sidelines of
the Division I big time. He loved it. Dan told him at age 10
that whenever he wanted to hit baseballs he could ask and Dan
would pitch. Drew always asked, 100 pitches, 150 a night,
swinging away with those aluminum bats that make a ball jump. He
was a big kid, always big for his age--too big, in fact, ever to
play quarterback in Pop Warner but not to play basketball. By
eighth grade he was playing forward on an AAU touring team that
played 70 to 80 games a year. He was very good at whatever he did.
"I'm in this business, so I always was realistic," Dan says.
"I've seen a lot of kids who stand out and then move along to the
next level and become ordinary. I kept watching for this with
Drew, but each time he moved up it was the same. He could always
handle the challenge. By the time he was 12, I knew he was
different. He had the mental makeup to go with the physical
The job as offensive coordinator at Eastern Michigan opened in
the middle of Drew's ninth-grade year at Brimhall Junior High in
Gilbert, Ariz. Dan took the job and gave Drew the option to
finish out the year in Arizona, living with his sister,
Brittany, and Carol for the final 3 1/2 months while they closed
up the house and finished unfinished business, or to come
immediately to Michigan with him. Drew went with his dad.
Father and son lived in an office in the field house, two beds
fit between the furniture and clutter. They ate breakfast
together every morning at the Mobil station across the street.
At night Dan graded films of recruits on the big-screen
television while Drew slept. More osmosis. "I think that was a
good time for him, a good time for both of us," Dan says. "I
think it was a time when a lot of things came into focus. Don't
you think so, Drew?"
"I think so," Drew agrees. "I think my whole life, moving around
the way we have, always adjusting to a new school, new friends,
has helped prepare me for what's ahead. I've had to learn how to
live with new situations, new people."
After careful consideration, they chose to live in Brighton so
Drew could play at the high school there. Dan had researched a
bunch of Michigan schools, grading them for their athletic
programs, scholastic test scores and coaching staffs in all
sports. He liked Brighton's large size (more than 2,000
students), athletic tradition, academic excellence and coaching
stability. The Bulldogs were chosen to receive this unexpected
"Dan came to me and we talked, and at the end he said, 'You
know, there's a good chance Drew is going to be a starter for
your team this semester as a freshman,'" Carrow, the baseball
coach, says. "I listened to him because he was a coach, but I've
been a coach here for 26 years and only one freshman had ever
started for me in all that time.
"I think it took me about two minutes to decide he'd be a
starter, maybe three to decide he'd be my starting shortstop,"
adds Carrow. "I thought for a while I'd bat him seventh or
eighth, to keep the pressure off because he was so young, but
one of my assistants talked me out of it. He said, 'Don't you
always bat your best hitter third?' Yes. 'Well, who's your best
hitter?' Drew Henson. 'Well.... ' Drew batted third, first game.
He hit a home run on the first pitch in his first at bat."
That was the tone of superlatives that crisscrossed seasons and
teams and even extended through the summers the next 3 1/2
years. He was the best hitter in the state, the best pitcher in
the state, the best quarterback in the state, the best punter in
the country. He could knock down the 20-foot jumper. He got an A
in calculus, an A in every subject he ever took at Brighton. It
was lovely and disconcerting to watch at the same time. How
could one kid do so much so well?
The baseball numbers were staggering. His batting average was
.605 for his senior season, .527 for his career. The day he
broke the national home run record, which was 66, he hit three
homers in the game, drove in 10 runs. As a pitcher he struck out
20 of 21 batters against Walled Lake Western High last spring,
the final batter bunting to avert a 21-for-21 afternoon. He hit
the ball so hard so often in batting practice that Carrow
wouldn't let his infielders stand at their positions for fear
they'd be hit. Pitching batting practice one day, Carrow was hit
in the cheek by a line drive and fell flat on the ground.
("Another inch higher, I might have been dead," he says.) Every
day was a hitting show.
"I always wondered if a baseball would float," says Don Leith,
who owns a white house beyond the rightfield fence at Brighton
High. "I always thought there might be enough air inside the
ball, you know. I have a swimming pool in my backyard, but no
one had ever hit a ball into it until Drew Henson arrived.
Plunk. Plunk. Plunk. His dad was pitching batting practice to
him one day and afterward we went to the pool together. I think
there were eight balls in the bottom of the pool. We fished them
out. A baseball does not float."
"I went to Chicago and saw Kerry Wood pitch," say Tim Robinson,
the sports editor of the weekly Brighton Argus who covered
Henson's three-sport career. "I said, 'This isn't anything
different. I've been watching Drew Henson. He throws just as
hard.' Funny, but the sport I always liked watching him play
most was basketball. You could see his athleticism there.
Nothing flashy, always consistent. He averaged 22 points a game,
and it wasn't like he scored 30 one game and eight the next. He
always was around 20, doing whatever had to be done. I called
him a center-point guard. He brought the ball up and then went
inside and got the rebounds. He did everything."
In football he was a classic John Elway type of quarterback,
big, strong and accurate. His team was 5-4 the first year, 9-2
the second and 9-1 (9-0 regular season) in the third. He threw
so well that the coaches changed the offense.
"The challenge for us was to be able to use his talents," coach
Bill Murray says. "Frankly, we'd been running a Wing T offense,
where the quarterback's job was to hand off the ball and get out
of the way. We had to go to clinics to develop a pro kind of
offense. By the time Drew was a senior, we broke all the state
records for most passing attempts. That was how much we changed.
I could coach another 50 years and never have another Drew
Henson was such a good prospect that at a Florida State football
camp in 1996, the summer between his sophomore and junior
seasons, Seminoles coach Bobby Bowden offered not only a
scholarship but also the uncommon guarantee that no other
quarterback would be given a scholarship for the next two seasons.
This was an offer soon matched by Michigan's Lloyd Carr, along
with a pledge that he wouldn't ask Henson to redshirt. Henson
accepted that November, effectively stopping the great college
recruiting war before it really began. Better to concentrate on
his future. Better to plan. He would not just go to Michigan, he
would go to Michigan prepared. By last fall he was part of the
Wolverines' recruiting team, helping persuade perhaps the two
best wide receiver prospects in the country, Marquis Walker and
David Terrell, to join him in Ann Arbor. By the end of the
spring--fitting this in between whacking all of those home runs
and striking out all of those batters--he had learned the
"I worked out an independent study project for my final semester
that allowed me to study the Michigan offense," he says. "I went
[17 miles] to Ann Arbor on assignment every week and studied
film. I figured this was better than taking some cupcake home ec
course or something. This was something for my future."
The commitment to Michigan football hurt his position in the
baseball draft. Otherwise there is little doubt he would have
been selected in the first round, quite possibly first overall.
What if he never tried to play major league baseball? What if he
played minor league ball but pulled an Elway, heading off to the
NFL in the end? The pick would be squandered. A number of teams
tried to persuade him, with promises of millions, to dump
football. He held firm.
"I don't want money to determine his life," Dan Henson says. "I
don't want him to be 35 and say, 'You know, I should have seen
how well I could play football.' I want him to have options."
This does not mean that money is not important. Dan has decided
to give up coaching and join IMG, the high-powered sports
management group. He put out word before the draft that Drew
would like first-round money to play minor league ball in the
summer, with a large bonus to be delivered if he ever, indeed,
gave up football. That further restricted his availability,
limiting the list of teams that might draft him to big-market,
big-money clubs. The Yankees, biggest market, most money, took
the plunge, selecting him in the third round, 97th overall.
The negotiations started and stalled, the numbers being worked
and reworked, until the contract finally was signed. That
afternoon, in the second game of a doubleheader, Henson made his
pro debut for the Yankees' Tampa affiliate in the Gulf Coast
Rookie League. He went 1 for 3.
The kid will play only 10 or 11 baseball games this year,
splitting the next few weeks between Tampa and Ann Arbor, where
he will practice three days a week with Michigan football
players during "informal" workouts. On Aug. 10 he will report
with other freshmen for the beginning of "formal" workouts. The
Notre Dame game is on Sept 5. On Sept. 9, he will begin his
first semester of college.
Eighteen years old.
"We were working the other day, painting a bedroom in this new
condo we've bought," Dan Henson says. "It was hot and Drew hates
painting. He looked up and said to me, 'This is the last room
I'm ever going to paint in my life. From now on, I'm hiring
people to paint.' And you know what? He'll be able to do that."
Baseball in the summer. Football in the fall. Maybe brain
surgery in the free time left on the side. Or modern art. Or
classical music. The Web pages grow by the moment. Anything
seems possible. Anything at all. "Tell what happened with the
Yankees at the workout," Dan says to Drew. "When you were
talking to some of the players in the clubhouse."
"I was talking with Derek Jeter and a few guys," the phenom of
the cyberfuture says. "I was telling them I was going to
Michigan to play quarterback. They said, 'Michigan? Quarterback?
That's the big time!' I mean, the Yankees. They said that. It
was kind of funny."
The bright light cuts across the electronic sky. The millennium
approaches. Even the stars are impressed.
"By the time he was 12, I knew he was different. He had the
mental makeup and the physical abilities."
His batting average was .605 his senior season, .527 for his
career. Every day was a hitting show.
Baseball in the summer. Football in the fall. Anything seems
possible. Anything at all.