Solid Speaker Box

Surrounded by reporters throughout two days in Chicago, senior Aaron Henry spoke with honesty, about injuries, about family and about expectations. With every word, it because obvious why Henry is one of the key components on UW's defense.

CHICAGO – The decision by Aaron Henry to turn down a scholarship offer from then defending national champion Florida Gators and come to Wisconsin may have arched a few eyebrows at the time, but it's a decision the senior free safety believes was right, in ways that can be measured both on and off the field.

"What the University has provided us as student athletes is to give us a great opportunity to see some things I would have never seen in my life had I not come here," Henry said during Big Ten Media Days at the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place. "I've been to Hawaii, which was beautiful, I've been to Los Angeles which was amazing and I've been to Las Vegas and got to see the Strip. You may not be in these places long but you have a chance to experience them.

"This university and Coach Bielema do a great job giving us the chance to see something most of us have never seen before. With the experiences we've had, with the games that we've played, going to a number of different facilities, the opportunity has been amazing and I'm very, very thankful for it."

It was a rare glimpse into the rear view mirror in a program where head coach Bret Bielema has continually kept the focus on the road ahead.

For the self-described once skinny freshman from Immokalee, FL, that road was not without its twists and bumps

"Coach Bielema, we've kind of had our ups and downs. I had some early success as a freshman but when I was facing my injury and leaning on my faith, I think he definitely took notice," Henry said in discussing his redshirted sophomore year which was pent rehabilitating a surgically repaired right knee. "I'm faced with a bunch of injuries and he moves me to safety and I didn't like it, at all. I started to kind of resent him because I'm a cornerback, that's what I've been doing my whole life, but it's clear to see this guy has knowledge. It's clear to see he was trying to help me take my game to the next level.

"I think sometimes as young guys being kind of small minded, you only see the now, you don't see what's to come," Henry continued. "Coach Bielema's done a great job for my future. He knew the ability I had when I moved to safety and he trusted me the whole way through. I take my hat off to him, he deserves my respect and I'm very, very thankful."

Bielema's foresight has helped Henry find a place on the football field and find a place on preseason award lists, but don't expect him to rest on such accolades.

"I have a lot of growth still left to go," Henry said. "I had opportunities this off season to work hand-in-hand with Jim Leonhard and Chris Maragos. I'm telling you it's truly a blessing that you have guys that can come back to the University and work with them on the mental aspect of the game. Do I think I've arrived? Not at all, not even close, but I think if I keep heading in the direction I'm headed I have the chance to be one of the best in the country."

Those who know Henry best know the humility shown by the two-time Academic All Big Ten selection is rooted in faith, family and a strong work ethic.

"I had a chance to talk with my mother the other day, I asked how she was and she said ‘Baby, I woke up this morning.' So when you have a lady like that, someone who doesn't really care about what's going on tomorrow but excited to wake up, I'm all for it," said Henry. "I think that's the reason I play the game with so much heart and emotion."

Henry's mother was also able to be a part of one of the highlights of her son's career: his first career interception return for a touchdown against Indiana last season which he ran back right in front of her in. It was the first game Henry's mom had seen him play at Madison and as he crossed the goal line, he made sure to point right toward her.

"That was the first college football game my mother had the chance to go to," Henry said. "It was my birthday the day before and for my birthday present, my girlfriend surprised me and flew my mom up. The ball was tipped, and I was at the right place in the right time and my mom was in the right section at the right time. It was a great feeling to score that touchdown for my team but it was a great experience to see my mom there."

Expectations will be raised for Henry this year, raised by coaches, and by himself, especially with the departure of Jay Valai.

"I'm going to have to talk a whole lot more," Henry said. "Jay was one of those guys talking every single play and often even during the play, he did a great job a communicating."

And what of Valai's replacement on the field?

"We've got Dez Southward who's an athletic freak, he does it all," Henry said. "And Shelton Johnson is a genius, he knows what to do, he knows how to put himself in the right position every single time. When you've got a guy who's really smart and a guy who's really athletic it's going to be a battle and hopefully during camp we'll find out who the starter will be. Both those guys bring something completely different to the table." The road has twists, the road has bumps, but with the right teammates and the right mentality, the Badgers will compete, and in Henry's mind, his teammates have just what it takes.

"That's the great thing about the players on our team, guys who are willing to come in every day, not complain and just put in their work. It's kind of like a construction worker, every day that guy goes to work, bringing his hard hat and lunch bucket. He knows it's going to be an extremely long day but he's willing to go out there and work."

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