Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Aaron Henry didn't need a knee injury to humble him.
David Stluka/Getty Images
Aaron Henry missed the entire 2008 season due to injuries.
He didn't need a year away from football to make him mentally tougher. His grandmother took care of that long ago, and his faith has kept him that way as he traveled nearly 1,500 miles from home to play football at Wisconsin. Spend a few minutes with Henry, who will call you "sir" or "ma'am" no matter your age, and it's easy to see why his Badgers coaches and teammates speak so highly of the sophomore cornerback.
What Henry's knee injury and his failed comeback did was make certain that everything he had been taught could be put into action.
"It's not about what kind of tests are thrown at you, but it's how you overcome it," Henry said. "My grandmother did a great job of raising me by the letter of that Bible, man, and I truly think I was always this way, but I really wasn't tested. I always looked as football as my outlet, and I tore my ACL. Being a cornerback, all we do is run, and you tear your ACL, it's very challenging. I overcame all that, so it's great to be out there."
Henry tore his ACL during bowl practice in 2007 and sat out spring ball before returning to practice last August. But midway through camp he needed a second surgery to repair his lateral meniscus.
Despite attempts to make it back for the season, Henry, a projected starter, had to shut things down.
“I didn't want to put my team in a position where they couldn't rely on me," said Henry, a 6-foot, 195-pound sophomore from Immokalee, Fla. "Me being the confident player I am, I didn't feel like I could play to the best of my abilities. But it's 2009, man. A whole new day, a different new mindset."
Training camp is a grind for most Big Ten players, but Henry has enjoyed every minute of it. The coaches have limited him at times, and he missed Monday's practice with right knee inflammation, but he's projected to start at cornerback when the Badgers open the season Sept. 5 against Northern Illinois.
"It's definitely a sense of relief and pure joy," he said. "Some people can find camp to be grueling, you have to fight through all the practices. But it's kind of like a party for me."
Henry is expected to fill the void left by All-Big Ten cornerback Allen Langford, who recorded two interceptions, 13 pass breakups and a fumble recovery last fall. Langford also sustained a torn ACL during the 2007 season but recovered and returned to form.
Henry spent much of last season around Langford, picking his brain and watching film of opposing receivers together. His time away gave him a different perspective that he has started to put into action.
"I don't want to make the wide receivers mad, but he's had one or two of the best catches in camp where he just goes up and gets the ball at its highest point," Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema said. "He's a pretty exciting player."
Linebacker Jaevery McFadden is impressed by how quickly Henry has readjusted.
"To come back and not miss a beat is pretty good," McFadden said. "He's a shut-down type of guy. He can do a lot of big things this year."