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Hard Ball.
February 20, 2004

by Bill Hogan



NFL scouts, coaches and executives from 20 teams made a trip down to Houston recently to watch ex-Michigan quarterback Drew Henson toss around the pigskin for a couple of hours. And, boy, were they excited.

Henson threw 75 balls and demonstrated that he certainly has the physical skills to make it in the big leagues. The Houston Texans own the rights to Henson up until the start of the 2004 NFL Draft in April. They won't sign him because they have their own young, talented quarterback of the future in David Carr.


So the Texans are taking offers from the other 31 teams. Henson will most likely go to the highest bidder. It'll probably cost the receiving team a number one or number two draft pick. Someone will consider it a small price to pay for the strong-armed prospect whose entire college football career consists of nine games played at the University of Michigan three years ago.

The NFL teams in need of a bright, young, quarterback possessing plenty of "up side" are lucky to have the opportunity to acquire Henson. Good quarterbacks are hard to come by. Many of the most highly touted prospects don't pan out – does the name Ryan Leaf ring a bell?

Drew Henson is now in a position to offer his services to NFL suitors because he is big, because he is strong, because he is talented and because the kid can't hit a major league curve ball. Last year, with the New York Yankees Triple-A affiliate in Columbus, Henson batted .234 and struck out 122 times. Apparently, he can't hit a minor league curve ball either.

Henson isn't the first multi-sport athlete to wash out on the baseball diamond and return to the gridiron. I'm sure he won't be the last. Hitting a big league curve ball, or a 95-mile an hour fastball for that matter, might be the hardest thing to do in sports.

There's a reason that a major league baseball player is considered an All-Star if he is successful at the plate three times out of every 10 attempts; and a Hall of Fame legend if he happens to hit safely forty percent of the time for an entire season.

Those numbers wouldn't cut it if you're talking about pass completions or free throw percentages. Of course, if the average wide receiver ran a 95-mile an hour post pattern or the basketball hoop was constantly moving, that would be a different story.

Michael Jordan, while on hiatus from his roll as the greatest basketball player ever, toured the countryside by bus with the Birmingham Barons in 1994. The Chicago White Sox farm team was delighted to have his Airness join the team. But they were probably not surprised when Michael opted to reclaim his rightful place at the top of the basketball world in 1995.

Nobody would ever question Jordan's world class athleticism; nor would anyone dispute his remarkable ability on the hardwood. But a sweet jump shot, and the ability to virtually leap tall buildings, does not guarantee success when you have to step up to the plate and not only make contact with the ball, but "hit it where they ain't."

It seems to me that it must take some kind of inherent knack to consistently – that is, if you can call three out of 10 consistent – hit a Greg Maddux breaking ball or a Randy Johnson fastball; a required physical or psychological trait that goes beyond mere athleticism.

Babe Ruth did not possess the physical characteristics of a professional athlete. His robust physique might lead one to believe that, during his many home run trots, it would have been necessary to stop at second base for a little breather. Yet many still consider him to be the greatest baseball player of all time.

There may come a time in the near future when a guy flipping burgers at some greasy spoon in Ohio on a Sunday afternoon looks up at the television hanging over the Tums dispenser and says to no one in particular "I struck out that quarterback on 3 pitches when he was playing for Columbus."

At some point, life tossed the short order cook with major league aspirations a curve ball. For Drew Henson, life has been a little kinder by throwing him a change-up. Some NFL team will gamble that he can hit it out of the park.


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