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Drew, what''s changed?

BY STEPHANIE OFFEN

Published March 22, 2001

In a 1999 interview with ESPN, Drew Henson admitted that he had no intention of ever leaving The University of Michigan early to pursue a baseball career with the New York Yankees. If Henson wanted to play baseball, he could have played right out of high school, after agreeing to a $2 million signing bonus with the Yankees. He could have left school the next summer instead of waiting patiently for his starting opportunity with the Wolverines on the gridiron.

The quarterback reiterated his commitment to Michigan before the beginning of his first season as a starter before sitting out three games with a foot injury. And even after that injury and after a somewhat disappointing season, Henson reconfirmed his commitment to his team, and to getting his degree, four days after he led his team to a Citrus Bowl victory.

And after David Terrell, his star receiver, passed up his senior year to enter the NFL draft, Henson was still true to his word: He came to Michigan to play Michigan football for four entire years and nothing, no signing bonuses or departing receivers were going to change that.

But only two months after that Citrus Bowl victory, only two months after Henson committed himself to starting a full season as a Michigan quarterback, everything Henson had committed to might now be taken in vain. The money that didn"t entice him before may have enticed him Tuesday when George Steinbrenner decided to attempt to lure Henson away from his beloved Wolverines for $4 or $5 million dollars a year.

It is no secret that Steinbrenner has always had a warm spot in his heart for the third-baseman. Steinbrenner reluctantly traded Henson to the Cincinnati Reds last summer, in part because Henson wouldn"t give up Michigan football to devote himself entirely to the Yankees.

The Record of Hackensack, N.J. reported Tuesday that Henson is regarded as a superstar in the Yankee organization and will be valuable in taking over third-base duties after Scott Brosius" contract expires in a year.

So it is obvious why Steinbrenner wants Henson and wants him all to himself right now. But it is not so obvious why Henson would even contemplate solely wanting the Yankees.

The money will still be there next season as long as he avoids injury. Injury is always a risk but so is driving down State Street during any weekday the point is that you take the risk anyway.

What won"t be there next year is a Heisman trophy. What won"t be there is a national championship. What won"t be there is a college degree. What won"t be there are his friends who have worked hard with him for four years to bring the team and the program to where it is today. What won"t be there at the end of next year is a column about how Henson was true to his word that he is, in his words, "In no hurry to leave."

None of us at this university are in the position to pass judgment or try to make a decision for the star quarterback. With four or five million staring me in the face, I would probably give up my last month of school and take off for the money. But if the money were going to be there next year, along with my college degree and countless awards and championships, the decision to leave wouldn"t be so obvious.

If the Michigan football team a squad that doesn"t have an established back-up and its fans get their wish, Henson would stay for his fourth year and fulfill his dream to start a full season as the Michigan quarterback. But never has baseball put that wish so much in jeopardy. While fans and reporters don"t have the right to judge or try to sway his decision, they can ask the question of "Why?" Why would Henson even struggle with this decision after all he has said about his devotion to Michigan and accomplished here at the University? Unfortunately if Henson leaves, that question may never be answered.