Menomonee Falls (WI) High lineman Matt Henningsen had some great scholarship opportunities given to him over the course of his recruitment, including offers from Buffalo and Northern Illinois. But when the University of Wisconsin gave him an opportunity to follow in his family’s footsteps, Henningsen’s decision to turn down full-ride offers for a walk-on opportunity wasn’t as hard as some people would think.
“Ever since I was five years old I’ve been watching the Badgers on TV,” Henningsen told BadgerNation. “My entire family has gone there – my parents and my three older brothers. I come from a big Wisconsin family. This fall when they started recruiting me, I went to basically every home game. I went on a visit this Friday and that basically sealed the deal for me.”
Henningsen camped with Wisconsin on June 4 and the walk-on opportunity was first brought up. The reason Friday sealed the deal was Henningsen called sitting down with offensive coordinator/line coach Joe Rudolph, defensive line coach Inoke Breckterfield and special teams coach Chris Haering “awesome.”
“Everything was great,” Henningsen said. “I loved it up there, and I knew I would because I go up there all the time to see the place. It’s just like a dream come true for me … I checked out all the facilities, the engineering building, the campus as a whole. Everything was awesome. I couldn’t turn it down. There was no way.”
Although many schools were recruiting Henningsen as an offensive lineman, he said Wisconsin will start him off as a defensive tackle.
“That’s how I camped with them, and I did really well,” Henningsen said. “I’ve always thought I had a knack for defensive line. I’ve always thought I’ve been a guy who uses my hands really well, throw people off me and get to a spot. I always felt I’d be a better fit on the defensive line at Wisconsin. I’m very athletic for a defensive lineman, and that would be a big advantage.”
Knowing that virtually every year that a former walk-on carves out a role in Wisconsin’s starting rotation, Henningsen is excited to pursue that challenge.
“You hear about some of the big names who are walk-ons,” Henningsen said. “This past year our leading passer, rusher and receiver were all walk-ons. Same thing with J.J. Watt, who is the best player in the N.F.L. right now. They treat walk-ons the same, so I can go out and compete for a spot like anyone else. I have to earn it and it’s going to be a lot of work, but it’s also going to be a lot of fun. I’m excited for it.”