Trulon Henry knew he'd be able to turn his life around.
Whether he could revive his once-promising football career remained to be seen.
Henry, a safety who recently enrolled at Illinois, is a 25-year-old college junior. He lost almost five of those years to an armed robbery conviction that confined him in several prisons. When his younger brother, Arrelious Benn, took the field as a star freshman wide receiver at Illinois in 2007, Henry watched from behind bars in Glenville, W.Va.
Though Henry stayed in shape while serving time, he focused more on preparing himself for life on the outside. He took classes and got certified for HVAC repair (heating, ventilation and air conditioning). He had been a solid football player in high school in Washington D.C., but he didn't know if he could return to the sport.
"When things weren't going well, I kept my head up and told myself to have faith in God and faith in myself, to know that I wouldn't quit," Henry said. "I kept pushing, I kept pushing. It was a crazy experience. A second shot at football is having somebody take a chance on you, and I couldn't guarantee that somebody would.
"I had control over myself. I knew I would do everything it took to get myself in the right position to have success, but I didn't know if anybody was going to say yes or no."
College of DuPage in suburban Chicago said yes, and Henry spent two seasons there. In 2009, he served as a team captain and earned first-team NCJAA All-America honors after recording 88 tackles and four interceptions.
The 6-foot-1, 220-pound Henry is now taking classes at Illinois, and he'll participate in spring practice beginning in late March.
"It's exciting and I'm just so thankful for this chance," he said. "Everyone doesn't get a second chance, everyone doesn't get this opportunity, so you've got to take full advantage of it."
Henry credits Benn for helping him reach this point. And while the brothers won't reunite in Champaign -- Benn declared for the NFL draft in December -- Henry continues to have plenty of support.
"I call him a good assistant coach," Henry said. "He helps me out, telling me, 'This is what you've got to do to get here, this is what you've got to eat to get here, this is how you've got to take care of your body.'"
Benn maintained ridiculously low body fat totals by adhering to a disciplined diet that featured no red meat or fried foods. The approach has rubbed off on Henry.
"Growing up with my mom, we weren't McDonald's kids," Henry said. "Certain stuff we didn't do [before college], but as far as the fried foods, he's disciplined on a different scale than I am."
Henry has met with new Illini defensive coordinator Vic Koenning, who will begin installing his system this spring. Illinois ranked 10th in the Big Ten in pass defense last season, and the safety spot has been shaky since the departures of Kevin Mitchell and Justin Harrison after the Rose Bowl run in 2007.
"This defense is new to everyone, not just new to me," Henry said. "Spring ball's going to be spent getting a feel for the defense and getting the chemistry together. Some of the things he was naming in his defense go right with my strengths.
"I'm going to have a great opportunity to play here and have fun with his defense."