ANN ARBOR - In the fall of 2004, while the other freshmen on campus here were struggling with the English 101 rubric, or the gastro-intestinal challenges of dorm food, Chad Henne had other issues.
At 19 years and a couple of months old, Henne was the starting quarterback at Michigan - a place where nobody knows who the head of the philosophy department is, but everybody second-guesses the quarterback.
"When Chad first got here, he was a young guy kind of thrust out there into the spotlight," Michigan senior center Mark Bihl said. "That's a tough thing for anyone to deal with, but he handled it all really well, and now he's more than good. We think Chad's the real deal - a great leader and one of the best quarterbacks in the country."
Michigan coach Lloyd Carr bet the farm on Henne back then, and has stuck with his agrarian investment. The first road game of Henne's career was at Notre Dame, and after the Wolverines dropped a 28-20 count to the Fighting Irish, Henne took the brunt of the criticism.
"Here's a kid that had been on our campus for only four or five weeks, and he starts his second game at Michigan in Notre Dame Stadium," Carr said. "Anybody who is fair understands that. This kid has everything it takes."
After Henne sparkled in Michigan's 47-21 rout at Notre Dame on Saturday, Carr fired back, still steamed over the heat Henne took as a freshman, and then again last year while his team struggled with a gimpy running game that allowed defenses to unload on its quarterback.
"A year ago when we did not have much success," Carr said. "He had to take an incredible amount of unfair criticism - 'he can't do this, can't do that.' Just baloney."
Prior to last Saturday, Henne had lost most of the big games he had played in, yet won a Big Ten title as Michigan's first true freshman to start at quarterback since Rick Leach in 1975. Henne entered last Saturday's game in South Bend with an 0-6 record against Ohio State, Notre Dame and Michigan's past two bowl opponents, but with two wins over in-state rival Michigan State.
Henne became the first true freshman quarterback to start in the Rose Bowl, and tied a bowl record with four touchdown passes against Texas. He was also the first true freshman quarterback to lead his team to a Big Ten title.
After Henne started Saturday's game by throwing an interception on his first pass against Notre Dame, Carr said Henne's mettle was exposed. The junior from Wyomissing, Pa., then completed 13 of his next 21 passes for 220 yards and three touchdowns.
"If you value courage," Carr said, "when Chad Henne threw the first pass there for an interception, I mean what he did after that speaks to what he is. So anybody that doubts him as a quarterback, they don't know anything about quarterback play. He was outstanding."
Henne, now 19-8 as a starter at Michigan, said he has tried to maintain a consistent emotional level.
"We've had some difficult times, but I think we've also learned how to fight back when times are tough," he said. "Part of the key is how you handle adversity, how you do on the next play after you've made a mistake, or in the next game after a loss. I've learned a lot about that."
Henne has 53 career touchdown passes, and has thrown for 5,737 yards at Michigan.
Carr said that if Henne gets time to deliver the ball this Saturday in the Big Ten opener against Wisconsin at the Big House, the results should be positive, like they were at Notre Dame.
"When he gets protection, then good things happen. And when he doesn't, they won't," Carr said. "If you get to know him, he's a pretty reserved guy. But he's got a fire in his belly. He's a very competitive guy."
BIG TEN HONORS: Two Wolverines, graduates of Warren Harding High School in Ohio won Big Ten player-of-the-week honorse. Sophomore receiver Mario Manningham had three touchdown receptions to win offensive player, while senior linebacker Prescott Burgess had two interceptions against the Notre Dame, and returned one 31 yards for a touchdown on the
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