"Dan came to me and we talked, and at the end he said, 'You know, there's a good chance Drew is going to be a starter for your team this semester as a freshman,' " Carrow, the baseball coach, says. "I listened to him because he was a coach, but I've been a coach here for 26 years and only one freshman had ever started for me in all that time.
"I think it took me about two minutes to decide he'd be a starter, maybe three to decide he'd be my starting shortstop," adds Carrow. "I thought for a while I'd bat him seventh or eighth, to keep the pressure off because he was so young, but one of my assistants talked me out of it. He said, 'Don't you always bat your best hitter third?' Yes. 'Well, who's your best hitter?' Drew Henson. 'Well....' Drew batted third, first game. He hit a home run on the first pitch in his first at bat."
That was the tone of superlatives that crisscrossed seasons and teams and even extended through the summers the next 3½ years. He was the best hitter in the state, the best pitcher in the state, the best quarterback in the state, the best punter in the country. He could knock down the 20-foot jumper. He got an A in calculus, an A in every subject he ever took at Brighton. It was lovely and disconcerting to watch at the same time. How could one kid do so much so well?
The baseball numbers were staggering. His batting average was .605 for his senior season, .527 for his career. The day he broke the national home run record, which was 66, he hit three homers in the game, drove in 10 runs. As a pitcher he struck out 20 of 21 batters against Walled Lake Western High last spring, the final batter bunting to avert a 21-for-21 afternoon. He hit the ball so hard so often in batting practice that Carrow wouldn't let his infielders stand at their positions for fear they'd be hit. Pitching batting practice one day, Carrow was hit in the cheek by a line drive and fell flat on the ground. ("Another inch higher, I might have been dead," he says.) Every day was a hitting show.
"I always wondered if a baseball would float," says Don Leith, who owns a white house beyond the rightfield fence at Brighton High. "I always thought there might be enough air inside the ball, you know. I have a swimming pool in my backyard, but no one had ever hit a ball into it until Drew Henson arrived. Plunk. Plunk. Plunk. His dad was pitching batting practice to him one day and afterward we went to the pool together. I think there were eight balls in the bottom of the pool. We fished them out. A baseball does not float."
"I went to Chicago and saw Kerry Wood pitch," say Tim Robinson, the sports editor of the weekly Brighton Argus who covered Henson's three-sport career. "I said, 'This isn't anything different. I've been watching Drew Henson. He throws just as hard.' Funny, but the sport I always liked watching him play most was basketball. You could see his athleticism there. Nothing flashy, always consistent. He averaged 22 points a game, and it wasn't like he scored 30 one game and eight the next. He always was around 20, doing whatever had to be done. I called him a center-point guard. He brought the ball up and then went inside and got the rebounds. He did everything."
In football he was a classic John Elway type of quarterback, big, strong and accurate. His team was 5-4 the first year, 9-2 the second and 9-1 (9-0 regular season) in the third. He threw so well that the coaches changed the offense.
"The challenge for us was to be able to use his talents," coach Bill Murray says. "Frankly, we'd been running a Wing T offense, where the quarterback's job was to hand off the ball and get out of the way. We had to go to clinics to develop a pro kind of offense. By the time Drew was a senior, we broke all the state records for most passing attempts. That was how much we changed. I could coach another 50 years and never have another Drew Henson."
Henson was such a good prospect that at a Florida State football camp in 1996, the summer between his sophomore and junior seasons, Seminoles coach Bobby Bowden offered not only a scholarship but also the uncommon guarantee that no other quarterback would be given a scholarship for the next two seasons.
This was an offer soon matched by Michigan's Lloyd Carr, along with a pledge that he wouldn't ask Henson to redshirt. Henson accepted that November, effectively stopping the great college recruiting war before it really began. Better to concentrate on his future. Better to plan. He would not just go to Michigan, he would go to Michigan prepared. By last fall he was part of the Wolverines' recruiting team, helping persuade perhaps the two best wide receiver prospects in the country, Marquis Walker and David Terrell, to join him in Ann Arbor. By the end of the spring—fitting this in between whacking all of those home runs and striking out all of those batters—he had learned the Wolverines offense.