Every once in a long while, an athlete comes along with such talent and potential that even greatly hyped top picks can’t rival the buzz surrounding them.
These are the two-sport stars. The athletes who excel at whatever they do. Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders did it best, playing in the NFL and MLB and making an impact in both. Drew Henson, the baseball and football star who had the world in his hands at 18, was always supposed to join that list.
Doing it all in high school, there was nothing Henson couldn’t accomplish. He threw for 5,662 yards and 52 touchdowns as a highly touted quarterback. During his senor season in baseball, he hit .608 with 22 home runs and 83 RBI while also compiling a 14-1 record, a 0.86 ERA, and 174 strikeouts.
He was so aggressively sought after that legendary Florida State coach Bobby Bowden, after an FSU football camp appearance by Henson in 1996 (between Henson’s sophomore and junior seasons), not only offered a scholarship but guaranteed that no other quarterback would be given one for the next two seasons.
But after quarterback Chris Weinke committed to Florida State, Henson chose instead to go to the University of Michigan to play for Lloyd Carr and the defending co-National Champions.
The hype train for Henson was starting to pick up incredible steam. His high school baseball coach Mark Carrow had this to say about Henson:
“Do you know how there are all the stories these days about what’s going to happen when Michael Jordan retires? 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.”
Despite his decision to play quarterback for Michigan in the fall, Henson was selected in the third round (97th overall) by the New York Yankees in the 1998 MLB Draft. There was little doubt at the time that had Henson been committed to baseball only, he could have been the #1 pick.
Touted by mlive.com as perhaps the best recruit in Michigan football history, and often compared to John Elway, Henson wound up backing up Tom Brady during his freshman and sophomore seasons, seeing sporadic action along the way.
He would finally take the reigns of starter during his Junior season. Leading the Wolverines to a 9-3 record, he churned out one of the more efficient seasons in Michigan history. He completed just over 61% of his passes for 2,146 yards, 18 touchdowns, and just 4 interceptions.
But the money and allure of Major League Baseball would be too much for him to ignore. And the hype certainly didn’t die down.
From an ESPN piece:
“His raw power rates near 80 on the 20-to-80 scouting scale, and he has launched mammoth, 500-foot blasts since he was a high school freshman,” Baseball America wrote in 2002. “Henson has a chance to be a franchise player because his work ethic and intelligence are as outstanding as his talent.”
He would forgo his senior season at Michigan to sign with the Yankees, inking a six-year, $17M deal. Owner George Steinbrenner, anxious to see a quick return on his investment, pushed Henson’s development. He wound up in AAA Columbus, where he would struggle with advanced pitching and was probably not helped by the chorus of boos he routinely received for having played at Michigan.
Henson would struggle to find his footing with the Yankees and, after the team acquired third baseman Aaron Boone at the 2003 trading deadline, officially putting him on the outs with the team. Brian Cashman commented on Henson’s status with the club:
“Drew Henson hasn’t developed to the point where he is in consideration for the major-league side. By this move, we recognize there is a position of need for the organization and we can improve upon it now. The move for Aaron Boone speaks volumes as to where Drew Henson is in terms of his development at this time.”
Finishing his Yankee career with a .111 avg (1-for-9), he decided to forefit the final $12M on his deal to pursue a career in the NFL, being selected 192nd overall by the Houston Texans in the 2003 Draft before being traded to the Dallas Cowboys for their third round pick in the 2004 Draft.
His only start for Dallas would come on Thanksgiving Day 2004 and it wasn’t pretty. He was 4-12 for 31 yards in the first half before being pulled for veteran Vinny Testaverde and would only attempt six more passes for the rest of the season.
Things got worse for Henson in 2005 when he landed third on the depth chart behind Drew Bledsoe and Tony Romo. He would see no action that season and was re-assigned to the Rhein Fire of NFL Europe for the 2006 season before being released in August.
He would bounce around during the 2007 and 2008 seasons, ending up on the Vikings practice squad and eventually seeing Thanksgiving action for the Lions in 2008. That action saw him go 1-2 with fumbles on back-to-back plays and a sack on the final play of the game. The Lions would select Matthew Stafford with the #1 pick in the 2009 Draft and release Henson shortly after.
Bouncing around, failing at two sports, Henson would call it a career.
Needless to say that since his time at Michigan battling Brady for the starting role, the two have been compared endlessly. And Brady has had himself an okay career with 3 Super Bowl titles and a couple of touchdown passes along the way.
Henson wasn’t bitter about the way things turned out for Brady, not at all:
“I gotta tell ya, all this Tom Brady stuff kinda sucks,” said Henson, shrugging his shoulders and looking off into the distance. “This guy already has three rings, he’s shtuping every gorgeous supermodel that walks this unfair earth, he has that cool dimple chin and he keeps upping the ante each week with his striking outfits. Watching this from my couch while basically not playing anything kinda blows, it really does.”
When an attempt was made to pry a game prediction out of Henson, he interrupted and continued on Brady.
“Look at it this way, if he takes a shit it’s news. He leaves his apartment it’s news. It’s even news when he goes ‘ahhhh’ after taking a satisfying, refreshing sip. Look at me, if I go out and rob a bank, I make the news but it’s still not even in the sports section. It’s like that guy who played Calogero in A Bronx Tale, I didn’t know what the hell happened to his career until he participated in a Bronx shootout. It just sucks.”
Despite his failures as The Next Big Thing in two sports, all did not end poorly for Henson. He was recently hired by the Yankees as an assistant coach for their Rookie League team in Tampa.
He may not have lived up to the massive hype laid at his feet, leaving both baseball and football unsuccessfully, but Drew Henson will have a chance to make his mark a second time. This time, he hopes to be around a bit longer.
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