For as long as he can remember, Drew Henson has been evaluating football talent.
Way back when he was a young boy tagging along with his father, Dan, a longtime college football coach, he would study all the players at every position — not just quarterback, a position he would eventually play — and was captivated.
Henson, the former University of Michigan quarterback and Yankees third-round draft draft pick in 1998 from Brighton, is hoping to turn his wealth of football knowledge into a career as an NFL scout. He has been focused on that goal the past few years and is working with the quarterbacks this week at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama.
“He’s hungry and he has a great football background, and I know he wants to do this,” said Jim Nagy, a longtime NFL scout who is now the executive director of the Senior Bowl. “He did the baseball thing, but his heart’s always been in football. It’s cool he’s chasing it.”
After the 2000 season — when he replaced the graduated Tom Brady as the Wolverines' starting quarterback — Henson left Michigan and signed a six-year "baseball-only" contract with the Yankees. He retired from the sport in early 2004 after two cups of coffee with the Yankees, and returned to football.
He was selected in the 2003 NFL Draft by the Houston Texans, and played just nine games total in 2004 and 2008, including two with the Lions in 2008. On the verge of turning 40 next month, he doesn’t have regrets and doesn’t play the what-if game, but he is zeroed in on what he wants now.
“I left (Michigan) before my senior year, and I wish I would have had a little more patience to play everything out,” Henson said this week. “I probably would have ended up playing football, because when I played baseball, I missed football. I missed being a quarterback. I missed the camaraderie, the team part of it, the prep, everything that goes into it, and that’s why I walked away from a lot of money to go pursue my football career.”
Since then, he realized he wants to work for an NFL team and identify up-and-coming talent. Henson believes he can be an asset for any team’s scouting department.
His interest is deep-rooted, even a bit nostalgic going back to the 1980s when he was a 7-year-old and his father, Dan Henson, was an assistant at San Jose State.
“My mom would drop me off after school and I’d go to practice and climb the old-school video towers when it was scaffolding, and I’d watch practice from up there with the video guys, because I thought it was fun. I’d watch and I’d listen. I’d be on the sidelines for every home game from 7 years old until sophomore year of high school. Knowing rosters inside and out, not just the quarterbacks, following teams, following players.
“Some scouts can say, ‘I’ve been scouting for 30 years,’ and that’s awesome, but without calling it that, I’ve been doing the same thing since I was 10 or 12 years old. Remembering the Marshall Faulks and the Luther Ellisses that played at Utah for my father. I remember what those guys looked like in college and the success they had, guys that did things the right way. Your Jake Plummers, your Charlie Batches. You’re always watching and learning and seeing what works and what doesn’t.
"It’s just been a natural thing for me as a player, and then at quarterback; you always know what you think about every guy on the roster. That kind of coming together along with my personal life experiences lends itself to a perspective I know could help.”
Henson started to pursue a career as an NFL scout eight years ago, but took a detour when the Yankees offered him a position scouting for their organization.
Baseball is a slow game, he said, laughing, and even slower to scout, because only so much can happen pitch to pitch. There’s an enormous number of prospects to evaluate domestically and internationally, and baseball prospects are typically much younger than football players who have spent at least three years in college. All of that provides a different sort of challenge.
He loved every minute scouting baseball, but Henson said the draw to football is strong.
“I think I have a deeper knowledge and understanding of the game,” he said. “And on the other side of it, as well, I’ve had such a unique experience, I want to be able to share that with younger players, be it on the evaluation side or like I am right now (at the Senior Bowl) as the group leader of the two quarterback groups.”
Henson is in Mobile this week to learn, but mostly to help guide the group of quarterbacks — that includes Michigan’s Shea Patterson — as they go from interviews with NFL teams and scouts to practices. He understands the players experience some anxiety in a setting like this and he’s there to talk, offer advice and remind them that it’s still the same game and to enjoy it.
Last summer he participated in a three-day scouting seminar Nagy annually hosts for former players. Henson then participated in a Steelers training camp internship, sat in on personnel department meetings, watched practice and film and listened and learned about what he called the “logistics” of roster building.
To stay in the thick of the game, Henson reached out to then-South Florida coach Charlie Strong and volunteered with the program last season.
“I was able to come to practice and watch film and do some advanced scouting work for them this fall in an effort for me to continue reps with breaking down players and then writing up reports on teams and their players and presenting it to the staff each week as they began their game prep,” he said. “From the feedback, I think it was beneficial for them and it was certainly beneficial for me. I wanted to stay as active as possible within the game. I didn’t want to let a season go without continuing to better myself.”
He’s not passing up any opportunity, and when Nagy offered Henson a chance to work the Senior Bowl, a setting that also will allow him to network and make contacts, he jumped at it.
“It’s fun for me to get to meet these younger players even though they don’t even remember me playing. It’s been 20 years — makes me feel old,” Henson said, laughing. “I just want to share my experiences with the next crop of guys.”
And take another step toward his career goal.