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The Badger Herald

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Henry’s vocal leadership second to none

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Aaron Henry is third on the team with 42 tackles and has two interceptions this season. The safety is a well-respected leader on and off the field, said to lead by example.[/media-credit]

Last year, J.J. Watt led the Badger defense statistically, but, most importantly, vocally – on and off the field.

Without a doubt, Aaron Henry is UW’s vocal leader this season.

He may not be able to figuratively carry the city around in the palm of his hand like Watt, but the senior safety is easily one of Wisconsin’s most beloved players.

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But while his “yes, ma’ams” and “thank you, sirs” have made him one of the most notoriously polite players you may ever encounter, on the field, he is completely different.

“It’s just a mentality. You have to be able to have that switch,” Henry said. “Being on the field and just walking around here talking to people are just two different things. … The reality of football is it’s a nasty, rough, tough sport. It’s in your face and it’s smash mouth. You don’t go out there to try and make friends with people.”

Henry attributes his well-defined manners to his grandmother and just showing respect to people.

This respect is not just for show. And his genuine personality has allowed him to be one of the most respected players and a captain, in return.

“He’s an over-the-top funny guy, he’s a little vain, he’s a little bit of everything,” sophomore safety Dezmen Southward said. “We’re going to miss him next year.”

“He’s obviously a great player, but I think he’s a much better individual,” junior safety Shelton Johnson said. “There’s a lot of players … that are just players, but Aaron Henry, he’s just an all-around wonderful individual player to be around, and we kind of feed off that as a team.”

While he is a great leader now, Henry’s career at UW has not been the smoothest.

Henry played cornerback throughout his entire life until last year and did not agree with head coach Bret Bielema’s decision to move him to safety.

“I hated it,” Henry said. “I didn’t really like the decision, we kind of butted heads. He always has a player’s goodwill at heart. He’s been doing this for a long time. I didn’t understand it because I had been playing corner my whole life … but after suffering my knee injury and going through a few surgeries, he thought it would be best.”

The Immokalee, Fla., native said he is now thankful for the switch and admits that if he could change things he may have started out at safety – but he will always be a corner at heart.

Given his knowledge of the game and his size, the transition to safety was not all that difficult for him scheme-wise, but it did take some getting used to.

“It was a process to get him to learn how to play the position,” co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash said. “Actually it was more a process to get him to believe in that was his best position. Once he bought in and he started having success, it just snowballed from there.”

For Henry, it was ultimately a mental transition.

“It’s a whole lot more mental back there at safety,” he said. “It’s a lot more physical as far as being able to move your feet. Safety is a whole different world, a whole different ball game. … I was already a relatively smart player as far as the game of football goes, but when I went from corner to safety, it made my job that much easier.”

Despite the rough change, Henry has become a force in the secondary. Henry is third on the team in tackles with 42, and has had two interceptions for 29 yards and a sack.

While he is a respected player for his production on the field, the main thing that stands out to Southward about Henry is his confidence.

“Just his preparation, his confidence, it really rubs off on you,” Southward said. “I feel like I’ve gotten much better just watching him play, watching him prepare and seeing how he goes about the game of football.”

There is no denying that Henry’s game has rubbed off on his fellow safeties as Johnson and Southward each have 33 and 28 tackles, respectively. Johnson has also caught an interception this year with three pass breakups and four passes deflected. Southward has two forced fumbles with two pass breakups as well.

The secondary has, in the past, been a source of weakness for the Badgers, but this season, Henry, Johnson, Southward and Co. have helped make UW the No. 6 defense in the nation allowing only 15.8 points per game.

“We do a lot with each other,” Southward said. “We watch a lot more film this year. We’re a lot more cohesive; if I need an answer to something, I’ll go ask Shelton or Aaron and likewise, if they need anything they can always come to me. We just try to help each other with anything we can.”

Essentially, Henry is a pivotal player that is not afraid to say what needs to be said but stays respectful at the same time.

“He always says what needs to be said no matter if you don’t want to hear it or whether it’s something that everybody is looking to hear,” Johnson said. “He’s always a rock out there. Whenever we need somebody to make a play, we can rely on Aaron Henry. He’s just Aaron Henry; I don’t even know how to quantify that any more.”

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