Spring Breakouts: Traveon Henry

This Purple Wildcats Insider series delves into some potential breakout players for this upcoming football season. First up: safery Traveon Henry.

Traveon Henry was never supposed to be in this position.

Scout.com's 33rd ranked running back prospect in the high school class of 2011, Henry touts serious speed and can change directions without losing a step. With natural athleticism and field vision, he was presumed to be vying for handoffs by now.

But as safety Jared Carpenter graduates this June, it's Henry who's ready to fill the void. Honored as the Miami Herald's Athlete of the Year in 2011, his towering upside helps Northwestern not break a sweat over losing last year's Gator Bowl MVP.

Henry's been starting alongside junior Ibraheim Campbell during spring practice sessions, already staying busy against the Wildcats' first team offense. With three or more tackles in three games and a season's worth of special teams experience, Henry's slated to help ameliorate a secondary that's been attacked over the middle for the past few seasons.

The Florida product has "hard worker" in his blood. The son of Jamaican emigrants and brother of a defensive tackle at Yale, Henry's already emerged as one of Northwestern's most dynamic athletes, showing serious hustle on sideline-to-sideline coverage in practice.

There's plenty of talent in that blood too. After being showered by accolades while playing ball at Pine Crest High School in the Fort Lauderdale area, Henry received an offer from ACC juggernauts Florida State and Georgia Tech, opting for Northwestern instead.

In the Wildcats' nuanced defense, a player of Henry's intellect fits right in. Originally planning to study industrial engineering, Henry embodies the smarts and athleticism that Northwestern takes pride in. After notching 23 tackles last year and performing well in a spot start against Indiana, Henry has the potential to shore up Northwestern's one weakness: pass defense.

The Cats have lacked a consistent secondary for years now, but with standouts Campbell and sophomore corner Nick VanHoose in place for this fall, Henry's emergence could give this unit a distinct identity and confidence. A two-year all-state honoree in basketball as well, Henry's pure athleticism should have Wildcat fans salivating.

There's plenty of competition for Carpenter's vacated safety spot. Junior Jimmy Hall and senior Davion Fleming are both able players, while defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz is known for constantly shifting personnel packages. Still, few players have made as much of an initial spring buzz as Henry, garnering praise from Campbell, head coach Pat Fitzgerald and just about every major media outlet covering Northwestern football.

Henry's speed makes him a perfect fit for second-level blitzes, while his experience at halfback is ideal in run defense. But Henry's most pressing responsibilities will lie in center field coverage, where his smarts and vertical athleticism will bode well. Tackles and interceptions will come, but nothing will be more telling than Henry's pass deflections in 2013.

It's Henry's duality that truly makes him a breakout candidate for the upcoming season. He knows the game well enough to take assignments in zone coverage, and with a full summer of practice, Henry should know his role in the system like the back of his hand. But just as impressive is his raw athleticism, making him equally qualified to keep up with receivers and running backs in man coverage.

Nobody knows what Northwestern will need from Henry as its season progresses, but this well-rounded style of play makes that irrelevant. It's not often that a second-year player earns so much hype, but then again, it's not often that the Wildcats swipe recruits from Florida State.

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