|Wolverines trio of Hart, Henne and Long hope to end season well for a change|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 16 August 2007 11:56|
ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) -Mike Hart, Chad Henne and Jake Long might be the best running back, quarterback and offensive tackle Michigan has ever had.|
Assuming they stay healthy, Hart and Henne likely will leave the nation's winningest football program as record-holders in rushing and passing and Long will probably be one of the top picks in the 2008 NFL draft.
On the other hand, if they goes 0-for-4 against Ohio State and in bowl games, the drought would diminish their legacy.
``It's fair to say that,'' Long acknowledged. ``No matter what type of season we have, people are going to look at what we do against Ohio State and our bowl opponent.''
Hart, Henne and Long could've skipped their senior season, and the scrutiny that will come with it, to play in the NFL.
Instead, one by one, they chose to come back for another chance to beat the Buckeyes in November, graduate the next month and close their careers in perhaps the Rose Bowl or the BCS national championship game.
Michigan coach Lloyd Carr called Henne into his office the day after losing at Ohio State last year, wanting to know his plans for 2007.
``He said, `Are you coming back?''' Henne recalled. ``I said, `There's no reason why I wouldn't. I want to graduate and I want to win a championship.'
``It would've been too tough to swallow going out without wins against Ohio State or in a bowl game. I'm just glad we have one more shot to go out the way we want.''
Hart was the next to make his decision and Long was last.
``It's great when you have two guys coming back with you like Chad and Jake,'' Hart said. ``You don't have to worry about them messing up.''
Their unified choice made Michigan a popular pick to win the Big Ten and contend for the national title.
Hart is coming off a fifth-place finish in the Heisman Trophy voting. Henne has started each of the 37 games the past three years. Long continues to draw comparisons to former Wolverine greats, now blocking in the NFL, such as Jon Runyan of the Philadelphia Eagles.
``They make life a lot easier for me and Rio (Mario Manningham) on the outside,'' receiver Adrian Arrington said. ``Defenses have to worry about Mike running the ball, about Chad passing the ball, and Jake taking care of anybody that comes near him.''
The 5-foot-9, 196-pound Hart is the smallest of the terrific trio, and is by far the most boisterous. He talks, smiles and jokes around constantly and has provided an emotional spark since he cracked the starting lineup in his fifth game and finished the season as the third true freshman to lead the Big Ten in rushing.
Henne started off quiet when he was the surprise starter in the 2004 opener. Slowly, he has developed enough confidence to lead with his mouth and to carry a Louis Vuitton bag - instead of a backpack like most of his teammates - into news conferences on game days.
Long is perhaps the most businesslike player of the three and endured the scariest moment in college.
Shortly after going to bed the night the Detroit Pistons won the 2004 NBA title, Long woke up coughing because his room was filled with smoke as the off-campus house he lived in was going up in flames. He kicked the screen out of his window and jumped onto his friend's parked Bronco.
Henne is thankful the trio is still around to share stories and dreams.
``I can definitely appreciate it and I'm trying not to let everything fly by,'' Henne said. ``I think it speaks volumes about the three of us that we wanted to come back to win a championship and to graduate.''
Even though Hart, Henne and Long are winless against the Buckeyes and bowl opponents, it's tough to put the blame squarely on them.
Behind the Long-led line, Hart ran for 142 yards and three touchdowns and Henne threw for 267 yards, two scores and no interceptions when No. 1 Ohio State outscored No. 2 Michigan 42-39 last season.
However, Hart was held to 76 yards on 27 carries in his first two games against the Buckeyes while Henne combined to throw three TDs and two interceptions in the 2005 and 2004 matchups.
The shifty and slippery running back ran for just 47 yards against USC in the Rose Bowl after being held to 83 and 74 yards in his first two bowls. Henne, meanwhile, has combined to throw nine TDS and just two interceptions in the postseason.
Long and his linemates did not provide Henne with much protection against the Trojans, leading to six sacks and several hits as he threw.
Each of the stars has room to improve and Michigan offensive coordinator Mike DeBord knows they are up to their respective tasks.
``Mike can maximize his ability to read holes and plays; Chad has to put to use the strides he's taken as a leader; Jake can use his hands in pass-protection much better,'' DeBord said. ``A lot of guys with their talent come back as seniors and they're distractions because they're thinking about themselves and their future.
``That's not the case with any of them. They're great people and true Michigan men, who are going to graduate and continue to make this university proud.''
That will be true, DeBord insisted, even if they leave Michigan without a victory against Ohio State or in a bowl game.
``I wouldn't make those two games the final measurement for them,'' he said. ``But that is one of the standards around here. I think it says a lot that they came back as a group to take another shot at it, knowing that was going to be hanging out there all year.''
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