All summer long, the debate raged.

Julie Pannuto
Chad Henne became just the second-ever Michigan quarterback to start as a true freshman. Rick Leach was the first in 1975.

Who would replace record-setting quarterback John Navarre as the
signal-caller for Michigan’s offense?

Would it be Matt Gutierrez, the expected replacement, who had
spent two years learning the Michigan system as a backup to
Navarre?

Or would it be Clayton Richard, the lefty with a cannon for an
arm?

Turns out the correct answer wasn’t either of them.

Instead, true freshman Chad Henne was handed the reigns to the
Michigan wagon. A shoulder injury sustained by Gutierrez left the
door open, and Henne’s spectacular efforts in practice meant
that he would be the answer to Michigan’s quarterback
predicament.

And, according to him, he’s ready.

“I’m still a true freshman,” Henne said.
“But with all the preparation that I had — just coming
in the spring for a week and being here all summer and just
learning from the quarterbacks — you can’t name me a
true freshman.

“I’ve been through a lot and I studied the other
quarterbacks, so they helped me out big time.”

Henne seemed to show his maturity in the Wolverines’ 43-10
victory over Miami (Ohio) to open the season last week. The
Pennsylvania native finished 14-for-24 for 142 yards and two
touchdowns.

“Chad took it to a new level with his poise,” said
wide receiver Braylon Edwards, who was the recipient of
Henne’s touchdown tosses.

That poise was something that Henne’s parents didn’t
nail down quite as well.

After the victory, it was easy to recognize which set of parents
were Henne’s — they were the two that couldn’t
stop smiling.

“It’s exciting,” said Sheldon Henne,
Chad’s father. “We expected him to play the second
quarter, so when he called (home) and said he was going to start,
it was a big surprise.

“It’s not often that a freshman starts, not at
Michigan.”

The Hennes’ thrill level climbed once again as Chad helped
lead the Wolverines onto the field. And for Sheldon, it was almost
overwhelming.

“That’s what I told (Chad’s) high school coach
— I said I’d probably cry,” Sheldon said.
“You know, you try to fight (the tears), but it’s
exciting.”

It would be exciting for the Michigan program if the move to
implement Henne in as starter is successful enough to become a
four-year deal.

And if that happens, then those fond of Michigan football will
have quarterbacks coach Scot Loeffler to thank.

While the Wolverines were attempting to steal Henne — then
a high school phenom — from underneath Penn State’s
nose, it was Loeffler who was instrumental in the recruiting
effort.

When it came down to it, Loeffler, the Michigan system and the
potential to play early were too much for Henne to pass up.

“He loves (Loeffler), that’s why he came
here,” Chad’s mother, Suzanne, said. “It was all
coach Loeffler.

“He wanted to play, so this is where he came.”

And play, it appears, he will.

With the health of Gutierrez’s shoulder still an
uncertainty, Henne appears to be the guy — at least for the
Wolverines’ trip to South Bend on Saturday.

“There’s always room for improvement,” Henne
said. “I didn’t do some things and there’s always
plays I don’t do right, but every week you’ve just got
to keep getting better.”

Regardless of what happens with the quarterback position from
here on out, there’s a good chance that Henne will be ready
for it.

Just one other true freshman — Rick Leach in 1975 —
has started for Michigan in the team’s 125-year history, and
few starting quarterbacks have taken over for the Wolverines under
such hectic circumstances.

But when you’re a top-notch recruit and you decide to come
to Michigan, you do so for one reason: to play.

So Henne will gladly accept the challenge laid out before
him.

“It’s a great opportunity for a true freshman to
come into this program, especially with all the tradition, with all
the quarterbacks that went through here,” Henne said.

“You just have to … do your best and continue that
tradition.”

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