Ready to Step Into a Leadership Role

After starting the last two games in 2005, including an impressive showing in the Egg Bowl victory, Mike Henig knew exactly what he had to do in spring practice. The 6-foot-1 and 187-pound Bulldog quarterback knew the eyes would be on him, not just for his performance but also his leadership skills.

"I knew going in that I had to do good this spring," said Michael Henig. "And I came away knowing I did the best I possibly could. I had to step up because I'm the starter now. I got the most improved player and that meant a lot to me. It was an exciting spring for me.

"Plus, we got much better as an offense. I mean, Keon Humphries and Omarr Conner and those guys all stepped up. I can't say enough about Omarr. He is such an unselfish player who is going to keep helping this offense in big ways."

With familiar faces back on offense this year, Henig did manage to get surprised a little bit during spring drills.

"Really, it was the way we executed so well," said Hening. "And that made it all that much easier. People started making plays and that made this offense better."

Henig also slid into his new-found role of leading the team instead of trying to find his spot. And he fully understands the pressures that go hand-in-hand with being the main guy under center.

"I really focused on showing leadership," said Henig. "I am the starter now and I have to show the guys that if I can make it work, then they can make it work. I showed the coaches that I can lead and make plays and that this offense can be good when we execute it well."

And he and his teammates are doing all they can this summer to make sure that the offense will execute well.

"I'm just working on getting stronger and bigger and throwing it with the guys. We've all got to continue to get better this summer."

Last year as a redshirt freshman, Henig completed 60-of-135 passes (44.4 percent) and had a pair of touchdown passes and five interceptions. But he finished the year off with a bang, completing 11-of-20 with two scoring tosses against Ole Miss in a 35-14 blowout of State's biggest rivalry game.

Henig quickly admits the West Coast offense playbook is a difficult one to grasp. He notes it can't be done in one spring practice or even a full season on the gridiron.

"It's tough to learn," said Henig. "It takes you two solid years to get it all down and it takes a lot of repetition. But it's definitely a quarterback's offense. I love it all, with the checks and dumping a five-yard pass that goes for 25 or 30 yards. There is so much underneath with this offense and if you execute it right, you can hit those short plays into long touchdowns. It's tough to execute but we'll know how to execute it now."

Which is a long way from Henig's first collegiate snap at Vanderbilt a couple of years ago. At the time, State's starting quarterback Omarr Conner was injured while back-up-converted starter Kyle York was also having shoulder problems.

Enter a bright-eyed and very green Henig, who was 1-of-4 for nine yards with one pick at Vandy.

"I look back now (at that first play at Vanderbilt) and realize I was about as lost as walking into a science class," Henig said with a laugh. "I knew the plays but I didn't know how to execute them. Now I am just falling right into it and now I know about the execution."

During his first two years on campus, Henig knew he would have to wait his turn, especially after his rude intro to SEC football at Vandy.

But it's something Henig had done before. During his prep days at Jefferson Davis High School in Montgomery, Ala., Henig toiled behind starter Ted Bryant (current Auburn baseball player) for two years, awaiting his opportunity which was only one season, his senior campaign.

"I love competition," said Henig. "But I knew I had to be patient early on and be patient enough until my time came. I knew it would not be too long before I started to show it on the field. I went through it in high school and handled it, never letting it bother me or get me down. And that situation helped me the last couple of years here."

For the first time in his college career, Henig expects to have a lot of help geared towards that execution of the offense. The Bulldogs inked a pair of juco receivers in Tony Burks and Ryan Mason. Conner has now shifted his sights to receiver instead of quarterback, giving Henig another reliable option in the passing game.

"It's a whole new game now," said Henig of the new depth at receiver. "We have guys that simply can make plays and turn short ones into big plays. I only got to see Tony Burks a couple of days before he was injured but you could see the talent. But then you had Tyler Threadgill step up, Keon and Omarr step up. They all stepped up and them making plays is what makes this offense work right."

But this offense will also be minus the school's all-time leading rusher in Jerious Norwood, now a member of the Atlanta Falcons. However, that doesn't mean the tailback cupboard is completely bare in Henig's eyes.

"Brandon Thornton is an elusive back," said Henig. "I have been impressed with him since the first day I saw him at the Mississippi-Alabama all-star game. I know we lost a lot in J-Rock (Norwood) but Brandon Thornton has stepped it up.

"It will be tough to count on the freshmen but I know we signed some smart guys. I will have to help them out at first but they should catch on quickly at tailback."

Yes, the 2006 season opener is still nearly three months away. But Henig is already counting down the days and thinking about that Thursday night ESPN-televised contest with South Carolina at Davis Wade Stadium. Henig feels his leadership role and familiarity with the offense are in solid hands. He's confident of the offense he is directing, and anxious to show the fans what they can do this fall.

"It is exciting to think about South Carolina," said Henig. "I have a good friend who is their kicker and we joke around and mess with each other about that game. I believe we will move the ball better and put up some points. We don't want to be last in the SEC again and I know we won't be. We are more balanced now with more weapons and everybody grasps the offense."

Paul Jones is a writer for the Dawgs' Bite, Powered by website. Paul, also a sports writer for the Columbus Commercial Dispatch, can be reached by email at

Gene's Page Top Stories