The Voice of Reason

The mark of a great leader is how they respond and react in the time of adversity, the time when things seem the bleakest. After consecutive losses, senior safety and captain Aaron Henry had enough, and knew it was time to say something. What he said could be considered the turning point back in the right direction.

MINNEAPOLIS - Right before the team begins its pregame stretching, members of the University of Wisconsin form a circle around the four captains, two of which do the talking and shouting while the other two make their way around the borders slapping hands and hitting shoulder pads.

It's a tradition that started in 2009 and created after strength and conditioning coach Ben Herbert's motto during that summer's conditioning program – ‘One unit, one goal.'

The circle is a way for the seniors to get the team motivated in a public setting, showing how united they are before facing an opponent on the field. Sometimes the real motivation comes in a private setting, as what is said in the privacy and sanctity of the locker room can really make a statement.

Aaron Henry has been around his fair share of leaders in his five year Wisconsin career that he knew something needed to done. The Badgers had just lost two games in the fourth quarter, two too many by Henry's opinion, and he was frustrated along with his teammates.

Knowing his team needed something different, an emotional hit, before a home game against Purdue, Henry, as one of the team's four elected captains, decided to set the tone.

"I am not really one of those guys that will call people out," Henry said. "I'd rather pull a guy aside, talk to him, let him know how I feel, but I just felt we had lost two games and I was tired of it. I was tired of losing. That's not acceptable around here with the kind of caliber players that we have. Two losses, period, is not acceptable, so I was frustrated. I was tired. I was fed up with losing."

Much like everything in his life, Henry took what happened in the last two weeks of October personally. So when given the platform in the locker room, Henry brought the team together and spoke from the heart, telling them personal stories of things he and his mom encountered with different relationship growing up.

Henry said he got emotional, put his heart out there and wanted to convey that when you get sick and tired of something, it means it's time to fight back.

"It meant the world because it's not often one of your senior leaders gets up and you really hear what's going on in his mind," sophomore safety Dezmen Southward said. "He gave us some personal things that happen in his life and how his mom fought back and got back on the right track. It made us want to fight back."

Wisconsin responded to Henry's speech with one of its most complete performances of the conference season, a 62-17 victory. Wisconsin's offense racked up 600+yard of offense, its defense forced two turnovers and held the Boilermakers under 300 yards of offense and its special teams survived to break a two game losing streak.

A lot of the success had to do with the preparation throughout the week, but Henry's speech was the thing that seemed to push a lot of players to the edge.

"You could tell how he felt and that his heart was in it," sophomore guard Travis Frederick said. "For some of us younger guys, those guys are the seniors, they've been doing it for a long time and they don't have many games left. For some the younger guys, they know they needed to step up and play well, and his speech really brought everybody on the same page."

Henry has been a fiery leader since he committed to Wisconsin in 2007, and he's been a vocal one ever since he started his comeback from ACL surgery in 2008. One of just 12 fifth-year seniors on the roster and one of just three on the defensive side of the ball, Henry thrives on his passion, and has no problems expressing it.

"I take pride in getting the guys pumped up," Henry said. "We have to win out the rest of our games. It doesn't matter what it's going to take. I know people are hurting, but I don't care about none of that. It's all about us winning. Nothing else matters pretty much."

With only three guaranteed games left in his college career, including today's matchup with Minnesota at TCF Bank Stadium, and knowing the added importance if Wisconsin wants to compete for a second straight conference championship, missing this game isn't even a question. After spraining his right ankle against Purdue, Henry went through his first practice Wednesday to get back in rhythm and kept progressing.

"It's my senior year, it's November, it's a little beat up and nicked up, but it is what it is and I plan on going out there and playing a good game," Henry said. "I can't really worry about it and I don't have an option of not playing."

For the second straight year, Wisconsin is a team of youth. In the two-deep depth chart for the Gophers, 18 sophomores and 8 freshmen fill Wisconsin's 44 spots. With 11 senior starters, it's been people like Henry that are setting the tone now, and for the future.

"Those guys have done things that we want to do in the future," Southward said. "To pick their brains and be a sponge to pick up all the information we can before they have to go is huge. That's basically what me and Shelton Johnson do with Aaron and what Peniel Jean and Devin Gaulden do with Antonio (Fenelus). In order for us to stay at a high level, we have to do that."

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