Henson awaits his chance By Reid Cherner GANNETT NEWS SERVICE Drew Henson is in Minnesota for one reason. He wants a job. He is not there for money. His first baseball contract took care of that. Henson, 27, doesn't need the limelight, not after playing for three of the most iconic organizations in sports — University of Michigan football, the New York Yankees and the Dallas Cowboys. Of all that Henson could have been, what he wants most is to be quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings. At least he wants a chance. When Minnesota begins training camp late next month, Henson, a 1998 graduate of Brighton High School, will stand along Tarvaris Jackson, Brooks Bollinger and Tyler Thigpen, hoping coaches believe he deserves to remain in professional sports. "What Drew has is an opportunity to compete," offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said in a statement. "I think any player wants to have an opportunity to come into a situation where he can let his skills and talents speak for themselves and have an opportunity to compete for a job. "We expect Drew to compete at a high level and take advantage of his opportunity." For now, that is enough for Henson. "The main reason I left baseball was the feeling of having that (football) in your hand and the excitement that goes along with playing my position," he says. "There are few places in sports you dictate what is going on. I love to compete. It gets back to the reasons why you played when you were younger. You just enjoy the competition." Henson, 6-4, 235, does not look over his shoulder. But he knows what is there: An athlete who had a foot in two worlds, not achieving the stardom many had predicted in either. Henson was the 1998 All-USA Today prep Player of the Year in baseball, a first team All-USA Today punter averaging 45.7 yards for his career and one of the nation's most highly recruited quarterbacks. He attended Michigan, where he threw for 2,146 yards and 18 touchdowns in 2000 as a junior. But he left early to sign a six-year, $17 million contract with the Yankees. He got nine major-league at bats. Again he did not stick around until the end, forfeiting the final three years and $12 million of that contract to compete for the starting job with the Dallas Cowboys. "I remember playing against the kid when he was in Triple-A in Columbus and I was in Triple-A with the Reds on the comeback trail," says Deion Sanders, an analyst on the NFL Network who played for 14 years in the NFL and nine in major league baseball. "I was on third base telling the dude, "Just don't look back. Never second-guess yourself,' and I think that is what happened." Over the 2004 and 2005 seasons combined, Henson started one NFL game, with a total from the two years of 18 passes and one touchdown. Next he headed to Germany and NFL Europe, where he threw for 1,321 yards and 10 touchdowns in 10 games for the Rhein Fire. "I just wanted to get back where the real bullets are flying and being comfortable doing it week to week," he says. "The hype and the other things in the NFL are not there. It gets down to just playing the game because you like to." But Dallas released him last summer. Sanders gives him a pass in Dallas. "I don't think the offense was good. I don't think the team was good. He was in a bad situation," Sanders says. "People who know the game of football will say, "Forget Dallas, period. That don't even count.' "What he went through in Dallas, I wish no quarterback to go through, especially a young quarterback." A journeyman? Although the geography and circumstances keep changing for Henson, his plans do not. "Every year you go in with the same goals — short-term ones and longer-term ones, things you are trying to accomplish," he says about competing for a job. "It is not different this year than it has been in any others." Michigan. New York. Dallas. Europe. Not every stop has been what Henson expected. But all, he believes, benefited him. "Each of those stops provided a great learning experience," he says. "I'm 27 now, probably in my 10th season in pro sports counting the years I played baseball while at college. There is still an anticipation, but some of the questions and insecurities of an unknown are not there because I've been through the gamut of scenarios. "Right now I am able to relax and enjoy going to work each day. I have those experiences I can draw on when need be." Sanders adds: "The perception that should matter most is the perception that he has of himself. You can't let a person who has critics be your critic." Perception, though, can become reality. The reality Henson needs to change is the perception he is a journeyman player. "You just have to do it step-by-step," he says. "You want to show the staff that you can do what this position requires to win games. You do that a scrimmage at a time, a practice at a time. "I think you have to trust that your play will prove you out. What you put on tape doesn't lie. It is never too late to continue to improve and show people you can do this." Henson sometimes wonders what might have happened if he had concentrated on a single sport. "I think it's fair to say if I had only played one sport, either one would be farther along at this point," he says. "But at the same time, the three-sport athlete is a dying breed, and I was lucky enough to do a lot of things I love and not just one for longer than most. "This is the path I've chosen and I'm happy with it." With no regrets. "I wouldn't have changed anything," he says. "I've had great experiences. I've played in Yankee Stadium. I've played in the NFL. If you told me when I was 10 years old I could do all that stuff, I wouldn't have believed it."