HERSHEY, Pa. - Yesterday, under the glaring sun of an extraordinarily humid late-morning, and on a less-than-stellar side practice field, Chad Henne wowed his teammates and the smattering of fans who were on hand to watch the Pennsylvania Big 33 team practice - and only half of it had to do with his football prowess.
Henne is here to take part in the 47th annual Big 33 Football Classic which, after a week's worth of practices, culminates with Ohio's finest high school seniors from last season lining up against their Pennsylvania counterparts at 7 p.m. tomorrow at Hersheypark Stadium.
The 6-3, 215-pound Michigan quarterback recruit threw everything from bullet-like, eight-yard outs to 35-yard bombs with pinpoint precision.
"Chad has all the qualities you need to have in a great quarterback," said Harrisburg High School coach George Chaump, who is serving as the head coach for Pennsylvania.
"It starts with that arm,
though. That kid really has an arm and that's the most important thing."
While there was a lot of talk about Henne's right arm - and rightly so - it was something he did after practice with 7-year-old Michael Wray of Middletown, Pa., that was just as impressive.
The Big 33 institutes a buddy program, in which players are paired with a local child who has a physical or mental handicap. Players were introduced to their buddy after yesterday's workouts, and then given 30 minutes to get acquainted with the child and his or her family.
Wray, who was born global developmentally delayed and whose brain hemorrhaged while he was being delivered 29 weeks early, tossed a football with Henne, tried in vain to tackle the football star and used Henne as his own personal jungle-gym near the sideline.
All the while, there was Henne, with a radiant smile and a legitimate sense of knowing he was doing something an autograph or a simple hello couldn't.
And, there was Wray's mother, Sherry, standing to the side and watching a player who has risen to hero status in football-crazed Pennsylvania become a role-model to her son who has battled and battled just to be a "regular" kid since the day he was born.
"To brighten a kid's day is a great feeling, for them and for me," Henne said. "I know I'm blessed with my God-given football talent and with them, they have difficulties and things they have gone through that are very tough. Doing anything I can really makes me feel good."
"He is amazing and has interacted so well with the kids," said Lauren Cavallaro, the Big 33 buddy program coordinator for Henne. "Chad's a big-time player going to a big-time college and to see how he's interacted with the kids is really something special."
Perhaps Henne's character is only supersceded by his phenomenal football skills. He threw for 1,743 yards and 19 touchdowns during his senior season and is also one of three players in Pennsylvania prep history to catapult the 7,000-yard career passing yards barrier.
"He has agility, mobility and that arm," Chaump said. "But he has that persona about himself. He takes charge and you can tell - just looking at him - that he's a leader."
Praise from Chaump should not be taken lightly. Chaump was the quarterbacks and receivers coach under Woody Hayes on Ohio State's 1968 national championship team, assisted John McKay on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' staff and was also head coach at Marshall and Navy.
And Henne wants to prove that he's not a player who will be just happy to be on the roster when preseason workouts begin.
While former John Navarre understudy Matt Gutierrez will be the clear-cut starting quarterback for the Wolverines this year and a handful of others will contend for room on the depth chart, Henne feels he can make an immediate impact.
"I'm going to compete, I'm not going to sit back and wait," said Henne, who spent five weeks this summer in Ann Arbor working out with the team. "I'm going to prove [to the Michigan staff] that I'm ready to go and hopefully I get a chance in the next couple years."
While self-confidence is one thing, it's something else to hear a prediction from Chaump, who has seen his share of stellar college quarterbacks.
"He's going to play at Michigan faster than anyone thinks," Chaump said. "Believe me he's going to."40.28532 -76.65105 ERROR: Template storyimage.ldo not found in theme default for section Michigan!
Yesterday, under the glaring sun of an extraordinarily humid late-morning, and on a less-than-stellar side practice field, Chad Henne wowed his teammates and the smattering of fans who were on hand to watch the Pennsylvania Big 33 team practice - and only half of it had to do with his football prowess.