Sunday, November 19, 2000

Henson looks more like QB than 3B


        COLUMBUS — Drew Henson's decision gets easier by the day. He is a prized baseball prospect, but in football he is a phenomenon. The Reds' aspiring third baseman quarterbacked Michigan to a share of the Big Ten title Saturday afternoon and raised his own exalted profile to a dizzying plateau.

        He threw three touchdown passes in the Wolverines' annual Armageddon against Ohio State, ran for another touchdown and made the Denny Neagle trade appear a hopeless hunch play.

        Michigan beat the Buckeyes, 38-26, at Ohio Stadium, and the difference in quarterbacks was both dramatic and decisive. Ohio State's Steve Bellisari remains as raw as Henson is refined. Until the Buckeyes can be more competitive at football's most crucial position, John Cooper's legacy will continue to bear Maize and Blue skid marks.

        “Bellisari is a pretty good quarterback,” Michigan safety Julius Curry said. “He can throw the ball on the run. He reminds me of Drew, except his arm is not as strong as Drew's and he's not as accurate as Drew.”

        The differences don't end there. Henson plays smarter and safer. He does not force the ball into thick coverage, as Bellisari does frequently, and he rarely flings the ball out of bounds when one of his receivers breaks open deep down the field, as Bellisari did Saturday.

        “You basically have to play a perfect game against this quarterback in order to win,” Ohio State's Joe Cooper said of Henson.

        Henson was not perfect Saturday. His second pass attempt was delivered with such velocity that it struck receiver David Terrell on the shoulder, caromed high into the air and settled into the arms of Ohio State's David Mitchell. Before Michigan made a first down, Ohio State held a 9-0 lead.

        Thereafter, though, Henson demonstrated touch and precision, completing 14 of 25 attempts for 303 yards. He threw a soft screen pass that Anthony Thomas carried 70 yards for a touchdown, and then a 21-yard bullet to Terrell for the go-ahead touchdown.

        “He has a good arm and he has good vision,” Cooper said, in profound understatement. “He knows when to throw the ball and when to throw it away. And he doesn't make many bad plays.”

        Bellisari, by contrast, is prone to low-percentage passes. He was intercepted three times Saturday, and was fortunate the figure was not higher.

        Henson has made so few mistakes at Michigan that some analysts already project him as the No. 1 pick in the 2002 National Football League draft. If he is to be persuaded to play baseball full-time, it will probably take some team with a bigger budget than the Reds. Recurring rumors have the Reds trading Henson back to the New York Yankees.

        “I can't see Drew not playing football at the next level,” Curry said. “I know he's good at baseball, but I've never seen a quarterback throw from one hash (mark) to another on a dime. And he does some things in practice that he doesn't do in the game.”

        Henson is uncommitted about his future, but the life of a big-time quarterback has some advantages over bush league bus rides.

        “To come in here and find 90-some thousand people who hate you and boo you, that's a feeling you're only going to have a few times in your life,” Henson said. “I just tried to enjoy it.”

        With his life, what's not to like?



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