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Published: Saturday, 12/30/2006

UM's Henne, Hart: Are they nuts, or what?

PASADENA, Calif. - There's always that warm and fuzzy feeling when an athlete says he's going to stay and complete his college career instead of making an early entry into the pro ranks.

Hand the cheerleaders their pom-pons and strike up the band. Rah-rah for old State U. Bless those boys, so filled with love and loyalty for Alma Mater. Give 'em a big pat on the back.

Personally, I think they're nuts.

Some people see a rainbow and marvel at nature's beauty. Others of us go searching for the pot of gold.

Money isn't everything. It's the only thing.

(Granted, that isn't exactly what Vince Lombardi said. But it's close enough.)

Want a car? It costs money. Want a house? It costs money. Want a gallon of milk? OK, you get the idea. Everything carries a dollar sign.

Cold and calculating and mercenary? Me? Well, yes.

Let's say you're an engineer who designs widgets. You make widgets better than anybody. Heck, you can make a widget sing and dance. You're the King of Widgets. Your company pays you $65,000 a year. The widget company across the street offers you $75,000. Who are you going to be working for tomorrow?

What did Tom Cruise say in that movie? Show me the money!

Every year about this time there is a select group of college football players who have more eligibility down the road but whose talent puts them in a position to bolt early for the NFL.

There are two reasons some decide to stay in school. They dip their toe in to test the pro waters and find out their toe isn't big enough, fast enough, strong enough, or mature enough. In other words, advisers tell them they're not ready, that they won't be drafted high enough, that the draft is too deep at their position this year, that another year in college would drive their stock higher.

Or, there's the second reason. THEY'RE NUTS!

You're tempted to put Mike Hart and Chad Henne, Michigan's running back and quarterback, respectively, in the latter category. Both have NFL futures. Both appear ready. The future, as the saying goes, is now.

But both say they'll be back in Ann Arbor next year and, to hear them talk about it, it's almost understandable.

It's all about unfinished business, you see.

"We've had three years to establish our reputations and we've had a lot of success," Henne said yesterday. "But, you know, you're judged by what you do on the field in the big games. And that's my motivation to come back."

Henne and Hart are 0-3 against Ohio State. And they're 0-3 in bowl games entering Monday's Rose Bowl against Southern California. Six big games, six losses.

"Is it fair that that's a reflection on my career? Fair or unfair it's the truth," Hart said. "It's the reality. As good as our careers have been, we haven't won a bowl game and we haven't beaten Ohio State. I think you're defined by the big games. Nobody sees you against Indiana and Illinois. But bowl games and the Buckeyes are different. There's still a lot to accomplish."

But what about the money? The multi-million-dollar signing bonus? The long-term contract? How about being money-whipped by all those endorsement deals?

"Anytime millions of dollars are thrown in your face, it's hard to say no," Hart said. "But it's just money. It's the only factor. All that money is nothing compared to the fun of playing college football and being with my friends."

Another college season is another 13 games. And just one blind-side hit for Henne or one awkward twist of the knee for Hart could change everything. The future is fragile.

"It depends what kind of person you are," Henne said. "If all you want is money and you're ready to let [an NFL team] take over your life, then go for it.

"Me, personally, I'm having a blast. There's nowhere I need to go right now. There's nowhere I want to be except at Michigan. I want another shot at Ohio State. Three losses, that's really tough to swallow. I need to erase that taste."

Yeah, but the NFL can pay for a lot of mouthwash.

We certainly shouldn't poor-mouth noble decisions made by individuals with the team in mind. We shouldn't discourage a college athlete from finishing his degree work in the event he ever has to get a real job. To the contrary, this should be embraced.

It is warm and fuzzy. It is heart-warming.

Of course, they're both nuts.

Contact Dave Hackenberg at:

dhack@theblade.com

or 419-724-6398



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