Aaron Henry, the junior free safety for the Badgers, is one of the most thoughtful interview subjects you'll find on the UW campus. It's more than his unending politeness and candor. There's a power behind his words.
Henry, from Immokalee, Fla., has dealt with some weighty challenges since arriving on campus in 2007. He emerged as starter as a true freshman, but suffered a serious knee injury that forced him to redshirt in 2008. He played in nine games last season, but was a reserve. That gave way to his current transition to free safety, where he's slated to start this season.
If 12th-ranked UW is going to contend for a Big Ten title in 2010, it will need a strong, consistent effort from its revamped secondary. Henry, listed at 6-foot and 204 pounds, is a major part of that equation. He took a few moments to chat after a recent practice.
Question: Standing here right now, do you expect to be playing in the NFL someday?
Aaron Henry: "Yes, sir. Yes, sir. I definitely do expect to be in the NFL someday. Do I know when? I don't. Will I be there long? I don't know. But I definitely feel like I have the ability. I feel like I have the coaches around to definitely push me. I feel like I have the supporting cast. I think all of that goes pretty much hand-in-hand. All I have to do now is go out there and make some plays and show people my ability.''
Q: How easy is it for you and your teammates to get caught up in the hype?
AH: "Aw, man, it's very easy. Not just a program like this, but any (NCAA) Division I program. There's a lot of expectations year in and year out with a lot of top-rated programs. Anybody can get caught up in the hype. For us, our main thing, our main goal, is not to be complacent. We ended last year very, very well, but we have new goals, new expectations. It's a new year.''
Q: Would a gay athlete have a problem playing in this program?
AH: "Maybe to some people. Maybe to some of my teammates. I can't speak for everybody, but for me personally, no. I'm called to loving people. You know what I'm saying? I let 'em know that I care about them whether they're gay (or) straight. We're here for our athletic talent. Outside of this football stadium, how do they interact with people socially? I don't know. All we care about is a football player. Can he play football? Can he run to the ball? Does he respect his teammates? ... Me personally, I wouldn't be bothered with a gay football player at all.''
Q: A player you look up to on this team and why?
AH: "Can we come back to that one?''
Q: If you could personally witness any moment in history -- sports, anything -- what would it be?
AH: "Dr. Martin Luther King's 'I Have a Dream' speech. I had a chance this past semester to write a synopsis on his speech and sum it all up. Some of the points he hit, man, were like today's society.''
Q: If you were offered a performance-enhancing drug that would guarantee you a long, profitable, all-pro career in the NFL, would you take it?
AH: "Probably not, man. The guy that I am, I'm more of an honest guy. I just think that my faith speaks volumes over my athletic ability. If I'm called to the NFL, then I'll be there. My grandmother always used to say, 'What God has for me is for me.' Nobody can take that. Nobody can steal my joy. I definitely think I'd turn that down.''
Q: There are at least 10 guys on this team with consumer affairs as their major. Why is it so popular?
AH: "For me personally, I'm more of an interactive type of person. Just that whole aspect of interacting with people, the way the economy adapts to people, the way people adapt to the economy and what kind of products consumers like to buy, I can't speak for the other guys, but that's something I like.''
Q: Back to that previous question -- Someone you look up to on this team and why?
AH: "There's so many guys. Give me a second. Give me a second. I'd probably say (senior linebacker) Culmer St. Jean. Probably more so off the field than on it. He's kind of like a big brother to me (with) both of us coming from south Florida. ... Seeing the way he interacts with all his teammates, he's a lovable person. Culmer really doesn't get mad at anybody off the field. He's always a happy-go-lucky guy. For me, that's something I look up to because any negative situation he always tries to make a positive out of it. If something's going wrong, he tries to look at the positive aspect. I could name a handful of guys. I can name some of the freshmen I look up to -- Josh Harrison because he's tremendous in his faith. Maneasseh Garner as well. Bradie Ewing. He's always chomping at the bit and has that never-quit attitude. He's tremendous in his faith as well. There's a number of guys I can name off when you talk about family.''