Since registering 38 tackles and one interception in his first 12 games of his freshman season, Henry has gone through ACL surgery, a redshirt season, a bout with the H1N1 virus and seeing his confidence deteriorate as his skills turned rusty.
But it's a new year for Henry and a new position, as the junior from Immokalee (Fla.) has spent the last six months working at the safety position, watching some film with some smart minds and staying true to his faith. The results have allowed Henry to experience a rebirth in his game and his confidence, while giving the Badgers a player with game experience to step into the void in the secondary.
Badger Nation: How excited are you to make this move from corner to safety? Is this a move that encourages you or makes you a little sad?
Aaron Henry: Initially, I was kind of sad about it. Coach Bielema told me about it and I really didn't like it at all to be completely honest. Talking to Jim Leonard, a guy that has been very successful here, talking to Bobby Myers and to a number of guys that have played the position here and went on to play in the NFL, even Chris Maragos, they enlightened me on the position, gave me some relief and some comfort to just go out there and play the game of football.
I always grew up playing a cornerback, one of the toughest positions on the field. It's one of those positions that you have to be on everyday. The day you are off, that could be the difference between a touchdown and a pick six. I just thinking hearing what I heard from all those guys, it definitely enlightening me on my situation and brought some relief in a sense. It gave me something to look forward to in the future.
Badger Nation: What was it like watching film from Leonard and Maragos?
Aaron Henry: Oh my gosh, man. Watching film with Jimmy and Chris, I kid you not, I have never met Peyton Manning in my life and I am sure he's pretty smart, but I would almost like to put in on the house that Jimmy is just as smart as him. It's like a chess game. It's like Bobby Fischer playing chess. Jimmy is so smart and listening to him, what he's telling me and listening to his progressions of what he's looking at, going through the reads and pre-snap that goes with the game of football, he's so smart.
You see his career here and his career in the NFL and you wonder why he's been so successful, and it's because of that. Before I even met him, I thought he was 6-foot-2, 6-3 and 215 pounds, and I run into this guy and he's like 5-10 … and he led the school in interceptions. I was like ‘Wow.' When a guy of that stature speaks to you, you have to listen. I definitely think going into the meeting rooms and watching film with him, I was definitely writing everything down and trying to take my game to my next level.
Badger Nation: How do you have to change your physicality or your mentality moving from cornerback to safety?
Aaron Henry: The biggest switch, hands down, was mental. It's kind of like being a quarterback on the back end. You have to know just about everyone's assignments and what they have to do. At cornerback, you need to know if you are going to be in man, cover one, cover three. At safety, you have the potential to do all those things or be down with the linebackers or be covering somebody like a cornerback. It's more mental because you have to be able to adjust the defense when the offense adjusts. It's like being a quarterback back there.
Badger Nation: Is your confidence level back to where it was your freshman year before your ACL injury?
Aaron Henry: Yes sir. It is and to be honest, I am just excited. I don't want to say prove to people, but I am excited to go out here and play. It's a new position, a new year and it's so exciting because I know I have the ability to go out there and do some great things. Ability alone doesn't get it done, and you have to physically go out there and be successful. Potentially means I could be a great safety here, but potential means a hill of beans here. It means nothing when it comes to the game of football. I am just going out there, pay attention to the small details of the game, fine tune the small details in my technique and know my responsibilities. We have a lot of teams in the conference that are becoming pass heavy teams. Me being a free safety back there, I am going to have the opportunity to make a lot of plays.
Badger Nation: How big of help has Chris Ash been in making this transition and what's it like working with him on a daily basis?
Aaron Henry: Coach Ash is a great guy. When he first came in, he critiqued all of us. Guys thought they had it down or nothing was really wrong with their technique, but he found something wrong in everybody. When you have a guy come in that has been successful at other schools as far as their secondary goes, it's almost like he has something he has to tell me and that I have to listen to him. He's been there. He's done that. Coach Ash is going to bring the best out of all of us and I want to be the best I can be. I definitely think he's going to take me to that level.
Aaron Henry: I want to say yes and no. No because I grew up a huge Florida State fan. A crazy, diehard Florida State fan, but yes because me and a couple of guys got invited to Edgerrin James' house in Orlando. Edgerrin was actually trying to get the whole Wisconsin football team to go and the whole Miami team to go and hang out at his house, but the coaches and other family and friends were around and guys were dispersed and all over the place. I took about nine games and Miami brought some guys and we just had a chance to meet Clinton Portis – guys were going crazy – and meet some other celebrities. Guys were just trash talking before the game, more so Miami fans because Edgerrin had a lot of his family there and those people were ruthless.
That same night after the game, we had a chance to go back to the house and I tell you, they couldn't say nothing! All they talked about was Lance Kendricks, Garrett Graham, Scott Tolzien, John Clay, our defense … they couldn't believe that we beat them. Then again, they said we won the whole game and the game shouldn't have been that close. It was great going back home and seeing the expression on so many people's faces that Wisconsin beat a team like Miami.
Badger Nation: At the house, how many Miami players admitted to being really cold during that game?
Aaron Henry: Oh man, everybody admitted that they were cold. You could pretty much see it when they came out in full winter gear. I think the game was pretty much more when they came out wearing long sleeves and their winter gear and everybody on our team had on no sleeves, low socks and it felt like regular weather to us. Those guys were freezing and we knew that if the game boiled down to it, we were going to stick it to them.
Badger Nation: How excited are you to take those memories of the big win and use it in the secondary this season?
Aaron Henry: I am extremely excited for us man. I think we have the chance to be great this year. We have a chance to do a lot of things this year with the people we have coming back. Offense we have people coming back, defense we have people coming back and we do lose a few guys, but we have a chance to do some amazing, amazing things. If we continue to work hard and worry about now as opposed to later, everything will take care of itself.
I know guys are talking about going undefeated and I think every football team wants to go undefeated. Our main thing here is taking that one game at a time. One game, one day at a time. I think for us, all in all, if we continue to have that mindset and that focus, we're going to put ourselves in a great position at the end of the year.