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August 23, 2013In the early 2000s, Michigan found great success recruiting Pennsylvania, landing seven prospects from 2000-03. So when U-M went after Chad Henne in 2004, it liked its chances. Penn State, however, was doggedly determined to keep the five-star at home, leading to an intense fight between Big Ten rivals.
No. 2 - Chad Henne - 2004
Quarterbacks coach Scot Loeffler was a bit of a recruiting wunderkind in those days, and when he locked in on a recruit he wanted, he rarely came up empty. On the other side of the fence, it seemed like the entire Penn State coaching staff was sending Henne letters.
Henne was an elite signal-caller, throwing for 5,900 yards in his first three seasons, needing just 1,800 more in his senior year to set the Pennsylvania state record, and at 6-3, 210 pounds, he had the size and the arm strength to fit into any pro-style offense.
Miami, Georgia and Tennessee also wooed the West Lawn native - among 40 offers he held - but Henne trimmed his favorites to two pretty early on, and liked what he was hearing from the Maize and Blue.
"Basically Michigan said that they are going to recruit me and that I am the top quarterback on their list, and right now I am the only quarterback they have offered," Henne said in May 2003. "Michigan is very high up in tradition and their quarterbacks succeed in the NFL; It is a big honor for me just to get notification from them."
Henne also told TheWolverine.com he planned to make a summer decision before his senior season, setting the stage for a contested sprint to land the QB.
Penn State was pulling out all the stops, though, and had an ace in the hole - Wilson HS coach Jim Cantaflo was a Nittany Lion admirer.
"Everybody knows my situation, that I'm a big Penn State football fan, and I want to reassure the Penn State fans out there that Penn State could not be doing anymore than in the recruitment of Chad Henne," his high school coach said.
"Penn State's recruitment of Chad started last June [after Henne's sophomore year]. We took a trip to Penn State and Joe Paterno made it perfectly clear they had not taken a quarterback in the recruiting class they just signed because they wanted to let Chad Henne understand their commitment to him.
"Right now Penn State has done everything it could have done to prove to Chad he's their man."
There was so much hype for Henne that he actually held a press conference in June 2003 to announce his final five (and as we later learned from the demure QB, doing such a thing was dramatically outside of his character).
On Aug. 4, Henne told Rivals.com he would be announcing three days later, and here's where it gets interesting. If you believe Penn State folks, then sometime before his Aug. 7 decision date, Henne told coach Joe Paterno he was going to commit to the Nittany Lions and that they could rest easy. Or so fans of the Blue and White swear by. Henne and his family deny a conversation ever took place, and so when he picked Michigan, he was making his choice known for the first time and had not reneged on a commitment.
In Ann Arbor, the reaction was euphoria.
"Coach Loeffler said he was doing moonwalks down the hall. So I am happy they are just as happy as I am," Henne said. "I took the visit to Michigan around June 20 and I went on vacation the July 12. In that time span I was thinking about it and I was still wishy-washy about it, but once I came back I had my heart set on it.
"It's the tradition at Michigan. The last five quarterbacks they have developed have all made it to the NFL. Just seeing all the players and how they love to be there and how they love the coaches there says how Michigan really develops a person. I just chose Michigan because that's where I felt most comfortable."
Henne understood criticism from in-state fans was coming, but he brushed it aside.
"If people want to criticize me, it will be all right once I get to Michigan and get support from the community," he said. "It's like what happened to [PA native] Jeff Smoker. Everybody didn't agree with his decision to go to Michigan State, but once he showed that he could play up there and changed their program around, they all supported him."
There is an ugly side to message boards, and BWI (Penn State's Rivals.com site) showed it, unleashing hell and spewing venom like we have rarely seen following a young man's decision.
A few months later, Penn State earned a commitment from five-star in-stater Anthony Morelli, ranked one spot ahead of Henne at No. 12 in the country. PSU fans felt redeemed but there was no washing away the disgusting manner in which they trashed Henne for the entirety of his senior season.
Henne most definitely got the last laugh, going 2-0 against Penn State (U-M went 3-0 during his time but he did not play in 2007 due to injury), putting a dagger in their hearts when he connected with Mario Manningham for a game-winning TD in a 27-25 2005 win over the Blue and White as time expired.
First things first - Henne was a surprise opening-day starter in 2004. He had enjoyed a solid rookie camp but Matt Gutierrez was in line to start. A shoulder injury, however, sidelined him for the opener (and eventually the season) and Henne bested redshirt freshman Clayton Richard for the job.
In that 2004 opener against Miami (Ohio), Henne threw for 142 yards and two touchdowns as U-M rolled to a 43-10 win.
His freshman season was one few will ever forget. Becoming only the second true freshman at U-M to start under center (Rick Leach in 1975), Henne went 9-2 during the regular season, throwing for 2,516 yards and 21 touchdowns as he became the first rookie in Big Ten history to lead his team to a conference title.
In the Rose Bowl, Henne threw for another 227 yards and four scores - tying the U-M single-game record - as he tied the Michigan single-season mark with 25 TD passes.
Henne wasn't quite as good in his sophomore year, seeing his completion percentage dip by two points, but he increased his touchdown to interception ratio from 2.1:1 to 2.9:1. The team went 7-5 but Michigan struggled defensively and couldn't run the ball effectively with an injured Mike Hart so it doesn't all rest on Henne.
The 2006 season may have been Henne's best. He led Michigan to an 11-0 start and a No. 2 ranking (and an epic showdown with No. 1 Ohio State), completing a career-best 61.9 percent of his passes for 2,508 yards with 22 TDs and only eight interceptions. He was terrific in the 42-39 loss to OSU, throwing for 267 yards and two TDs, but it wasn't enough and Henne, unfairly, took the blame for never beating the Buckeyes during his career.
It was a career for the ages, though. By the end, Henne had started a Michigan QB-record 47 games, and had also set marks for career attempts (1,387), completions (828), yards (9,715) and touchdowns (87), obliterating the previous mark of 72 (John Navarre, 2000-03).
Henne was faulted with never winning the big one - he was 0-4 vs. OSU and 0-3 in his first three bowl games - but in his final collegiate game, he left on top, throwing for a career-high 373 yards (third best single-game total ever) and three TDs in a 41-35 Capital One Bowl victory over Florida.
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