April 9, 2013
Only two practices remain on the slate for Northwestern this spring after another hard-hitting session Tuesday morning. One of the intriguing developments this spring has been the ongoing efforts to replace graduated starting safety and Gator Bowl MVP Jared Carpenter, a role likely to be filled by a combination of rising sophomore Traveon Henry and rising junior Jimmy Hall. Skip Myslenski talked to both about their efforts to earn the starting job over the course of this spring:
Traveon Henry remembers his first appearance as a collegiate safety. It came last season, his true freshman season, in the 'Cats Sept. 22 game against South Dakota. "It was a lot of learning, a huge learning experience," he remembers. "I'd never been in a situation like that. I'd never played in front of more than 200 people. So that was big for me. It's, it's tough to put into words, to be honest with you. It's just one of those experiences I'll never forget. I'll always have that picture."
, in turn, does not exactly remember the first time he trotted out to play that position as a collegian. He does know it was the second half of last season, his redshirt sophomore season, and that he immediately felt at home. "It was almost like I was back to where I was in high school, back to being a player and being in the arena and having that feeling back again," he remembers. "It was nice. I liked it a lot."
Mike Hankwitz, the 'Cats defensive coordinator, is talking about his pair of young safeties, who this spring are locked in a competition to play alongside returning starting safety Ibraheim Campbell. "We're excited by the progress Traveon made," he says. "He was thrown into it last year as a true freshman and showed a lot of promise. Same thing with Jim. We got him into situations last year and he did some things. We're excited because they're the bigger safeties. I mean, Ibs is good size. But they both have a little more range and bulk, so we're excited we can get bigger safeties out there in this age. They both hit and that's what we're trying to get better at as a defense. Being more physical."
Campbell, who will be a third-year starter next fall, is listed as 5-foot-11 and 210 pounds. Hall is listed as weighing the same, but stands a rangy 6-foot-2. Then there is the 6-foot-1 Henry, who topless looks like something sculpted by Michelangelo. This is why we wonder how much weight he as gained since joining the `Cats. He laughs and then says he is actually lighter than he was last fall. We express disbelief. He laughs again and now says, "Everybody knows I love my food because I came in eating. I actually gained 20 pounds the summer I came. I came in at 200 pounds and got up to 220. I was eating good. I was enjoying my meals."
But then, as the 'Cats prepared for their bowl game, he had an epiphany and realized, he goes on, "I'd be a much better player if I lost weight." With that he consulted the team's dietician, who drew him up some meal plans, and out when so many of those foods he so loved. "Sweets. Cookies. Chocolate chip cookies. A lot of foods, to be honest with you," he says when asked to enumerate. "I had to switch over to the salads and the greens. But I'm starting to get used to it. So it's not bothering me too much. Sometimes you have to change some things for the things you love in life, and we're starting to see progress. I'm turning into a man, slowly."
A man, we should add, whose 212 pounds betray not an ounce of fat.
Henry has most-frequently started next to Campbell with the first defense. But not only is Hall still pushing him in this most-intriguing competition of the spring. He is also a part of the `Cats nickel package. So both seem certain to play important roles come fall, which is only appropriate since they share more than Hankwitz's description of them as bigger safeties.
Henry, for his part, was a running back until late in his junior year of high school, which is when he took on safety duties as well. "I actually fell in love with it a little bit. I saw myself as much better there," he says, thinking back to that moment.
Hall, in turn, was a receiver his whole life since his dad had once played that position at the University of Toledo. "But I also like to hit, so I played safety too," he says.
Henry, while being recruited, was not typecast. "Most schools said, `Come in. We'll figure it out for you,'" he recalls. But the second `Cat coach he talked to was Jerry Brown, who tutors the DBs, and so safety was where he was slotted since his arrival in Evanston.
Hall, in turn, was recruited by some schools as a receiver, by others as a safety, and ultimately signed on with the 'Cats for the total package they offered. "I never liked one (position) better than the other. No. Not really," he says when asked about that. "I always played both. People have always asked me, 'How could you not like one over the other?' I don't know. But still to this day I kind of miss playing receiver sometimes."
Henry, asked the importance of his experiences last fall, will say, "They were learning experiences, for the most part. I made some mistakes back then that I've seen myself overcome. I'm not making them anymore. And the game's much slower to me. Being thrown into the fire is much different. High school ball's much slower and it came pretty natural back then. But now the college game's become a little bit slower and I can play a little bit faster having that experience."
Hall, asked the same, will say, "I think that experience was big. College, of course, is a lot different from high school. So I think being out there, being calm, not letting the crowd and everything effect you was big. Then in the bowl game, I had a few plays, I made a few plays. That gives me more confidence to go out there and do it again."
Henry, finally, says this when asked the attraction of playing safety. "I like being in space and I like hitting. I like coming downhill and making the big play."
The echo you hear is Hall, who asked the same says, "I like the physical aspect of it. I've always liked to hit."
The final word here shall go to Campbell, who has had an up-close-and-personal view of Henry and Hall all spring. "They're both tremendously talented guys and they've both done a tremendous job of competing this spring," he will say. "I'm actually excited to see what happens in the fall."
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