UW football: Recruiting of Henry had twists and turns

2011-08-02T15:42:00Z 2012-04-18T10:48:23Z UW football: Recruiting of Henry had twists and turnsTom Mulhern | tmulhern@madison.com | 608-252-6169 | madison.com

Do you like recruiting? Do you like insider stories?

Here's one from Chicago last week about the recruitment of University of Wisconsin senior free safety Aaron Henry.

One of the interesting things to come out of the Big Ten Conference Media Days every year is some stories that you may not have previously heard.

Henry, who is from Immokalee, Fla., obviously has a special relationship with UW coach Bret Bielema, which goes back to when Bielema was a defensive coordinator and linebackers coach and recruiting South Florida for the Badgers. This is from a question I asked Bielema about that relationship with Henry.

Initially, Bielema went to the school to recruit Brian Rolle, a linebacker who went on to be a standout player at Ohio State. Rolle was a sophomore when Bielema went into the high school.

Bielema said John Weber, the coach at the school, kept pushing Henry. After Bielema became the head coach, former defensive coordinator Dave Doeren took over in South Florida and was the lead recruiter for Henry.

"Dave kept saying, 'This kid is off the charts.' (His) grandma raised him, pastor was in the home," Bielema said.

"I remember (Henry) coming on his visit, he actually visited Iowa, too. Back when you could text, we beat Iowa down there my first year. I texted (Henry) something about, 'Hey, you don't look too good in that black and gold (Iowa colors).' He texted back, 'Coach, I've got a red T-shirt underneath.' That was an indicator of what kind of kid he was."

Henry committed in December after a home visit by Bielema and Doeren.

"I really felt he wanted to commit, I could just feel it," Bielema said. "I had never met grandma, never met the pastor. You get in those situations as a head coach where you can kind of smell a decision is going to be made here.

"I put out some strong words about where we needed to be, he could be a leader of this group (incoming freshmen). The pastor said, 'OK, coach, can you guys leave the house?' I was like, either something really good's going to happen (or something really bad). So, we get kicked out. You've got to be on guard in Immokalee, there's a lot of stuff happening. They were in there for about 10 to 15 minutes, (we) came back in and Aaron said he wanted to commit to us."

Bielema had to withstand a few scary moments, when Florida got involved with Henry late in the process. In fact, Doeren and Henry teamed up to play a joke on Bielema.

After high school, Henry wanted to play in an all-star game. Bielema pulled some strings with recruiting analyst Tom Lemming, to get Henry in an all-star game in Orlando, Fla. "He goes in there and he's like one of the best players," Bielema said.

Florida had previously offered Rolle and decided it would offer Henry, too. The Gators were coming off a victory in the Bowl Championship Series title game.

"Dave and Aaron played a little game with me," Bielema said. "Aaron called, he was like, 'Hey coach, Florida as in here today.' I said, 'That's good, who did they send in?' He said, 'Urban Meyer was in here.'

"I'm like, 'Really?' He said, 'Yeah coach, they won a national championship.' I'm like, 'Aaron, I know they won a national championship.' It was like two weeks ago."

By this time, Bielema's mind was racing. He was worried Florida would swoop in and take one of UW's prized recruits -- and it was all because Bielema went to the trouble of getting Henry in the all-star game.

"I'm grabbing straws, '(Meyer) should have been in there two months ago, he should have offered you when we did,' " Bielema said of his conversation with Henry. " 'You're going to help us win championships.' I'm going a million miles (an hour)."

Finally, Henry came clean.

"He goes, 'Coach, you know what I told him?' I said, 'I already saw the stadium I want to play in. I want to be a Badger,' " Bielema said. "My heart was racing."


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