The Wolverine

March 2020 Issue

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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BY EJ HOLLAND A .J. Henning is fast. Just how fast, you ask? Well, the Gatorade Player of the Year for the state of Illinois ran a verified 4.46-second 40- yard dash in April 2019. He's shaved a few ticks off since then. The Rivals250 wide receiver from Frankfort (Ill.) Lincoln Way East also ran a 10.73-second 100-meter to fin- ish fourth at the track and field state championships last year. His straight-line speed, coupled with his ability to make defenders miss in short spaces, render him a deadly weapon on the football field. "With A.J., the talent is obvious," Midwest recruiting ana- lyst Josh Helmholdt said. "He has an outstanding skill set that is similar to a lot of players that have been suc- cessful at the college level. I think he's a Christian Kirk type. That's who he reminds me of." Kirk ran a 4.47 at the NFL Combine before being selected in the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft by the Arizona Cardinals. He is widely con- sidered one of the most explosive young wide receivers in the league. Henning is already faster. His own player comparison is actually the fastest man in football. "I've gotten the Tyreek Hill com- parison," Henning said. "The Chiefs have moved him all around. The Chiefs use him as that speed guy that plays in the slot, and returns kicks and punts. They use him a lot in jet motion. I feel like that's a good com- parison. And, yeah, I'm that fast." Like Hill, Henning is a speed de- mon. But what really separates both from their peers at their respective levels is their versatility and ability to make plays in short space. Simply put, a coach can do a lot with them and their speed in space. Does that last phrase sound familiar? Well, that's because new Michigan offensive coordinator Josh Gattis has brought the "speed in space" mantra to Ann Arbor. Henning is the proto- typical fit for Michigan's philosophi- cal shift on the offensive side of the ball. The 5-10, 183-pounder is the em- bodiment of what Gattis needs for his offense to fire on all cylinders. As a prep senior, Henning scored 29 touchdowns, caught 52 passes for 835 yards, rushed for 648 yards and averaged 22.5 yards per punt return. "He's a guy that, in this day and age in college football, really fits into any offense," Helmholdt said. "You can do so many things with him. We, for a long time, had him listed as an all-purpose back. Running back was really his first position. You can flash him in the backfield, and he can be effective in that role. "He can be effective in the slot. He can be effective returning punts and kicks. He's a very versatile player. He can score from almost anywhere on the field. If it were up to me, I would just keep moving him around and find ways to let him attack defenses." And that's exactly what Michigan plans to do. Henning is set to enroll at Michi- gan in June and could get on the field as soon as the season opener against Washington Sept. 5 in Seattle. Yes,'s No. 21 wide receiver and No. 111 overall prospect in the country is that special. "The way Coach Gattis runs the of- fense, he sees me primarily as a slot," Henning said. "But they like moving players around. I may see some time at running back as well. I'm so versa- tile, I can be moved all over the field. I feel like that's the strongest part of my game. Wherever they want to put me, I'll be happy to play it. "He definitely said there are op- portunities to play as a freshman. It's just up to me to go to work every day when I get there in the summer. I'm ready for the challenge." Henning committed to Michigan in June 2019. He selected the Wol- verines over offers from Alabama, Georgia, LSU, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Penn State and a PERFECT FIT A.J. Henning Brings 'Speed In Space' To Michigan 2020 Projection U-M returns two starting wide receivers in Ronnie Bell and Nico Collins, both of whom had stand- out seasons in 2020. There is op- portunity, however, for Henning to carve out some playing time, with the transfer of Tarik Black and Donovan Peoples-Jones heading to the NFL. He could see a debut role similar to what Giles Jackson and Mike Sainristil played as back- end rotational players as freshmen in 2019. A.J. HENNING WIDE RECEIVER 5-10 • 183 LINCOLN-WAY EAST H.S. FRANKFORT, ILL. RANKINGS STARS NAT. POS. STATE ✪ ✪ ✪ ✪ 111 21 2 ✪ ✪ ✪ ✪ 136 23 3 ✪ ✪ ✪ ✪ 112 16 1 HONORS • Selected as the Gatorade Player of the Year in Illinois for 2019. He is the second player from his high school to earn this award. • Honored as The Chicago Tribune's 2019 Daily Southtown Football Player of the Year, and The Chicago Sun-Times Player of the Year as a senior. • Earned second-team All-America honors from USA Today in 2019. • Was named All-State by the Illi- nois High School Football Coaches Association. • Helped lead Lincoln Way East to the 8A state title in Illinois and a No. 1 ranking in the state by MaxPreps. • Played in the All-American Bowl (one catch for three yards) and the Polynesian Bowl (caught a seven-yard pass and carried once for 17 yards in the Polynesian Bowl). RECRUITMENT • Committed to Michigan on June 26, 2019. • Also held offers from Alabama, Georgia, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Penn State, among others. • Recruited by tight ends coach Sher- rone Moore and offensive coordinator Josh Gattis. 2020 FOOTBALL RECRUITING ISSUE 26 THE WOLVERINE MARCH 2020

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