WEST LAFAYETTE -- As Danny Etling led Purdue’s offense through drills in Tuesday’s practice, a familiar face observed from the sidelines.
For five years, Rob Henry has been a staple for the Purdue program. He became a close friend and trusted teammate to so many in the locker room. For fans, he became a likable guy who you wanted to root for.
But in the week of Purdue’s final home game, Henry plays the role of a reserve safety, wearing the number 22 on his jersey. The Boilermakers’ starter for five games lost his job just before halftime of the Northern Illinois game and has seen little playing time since. It wasn’t at all what he envisioned for his senior season.
The 22 on Henry’s chest represents the selflessness he showed. When Darrell Hazell named Etling Purdue’s new starting quarterback, a disappointed Henry gave up his familiar 15 and asked how he could help the team. He did what was best for the Boilermakers.
It wasn’t easy for Henry to “swallow [his] pride” and give up the job of starting quarterback, but he handled it with the utmost class. Looking back on this season and his Purdue career, Henry seemed at peace.
“I know that God has a plan for me, and that’s something that allows me to sleep at night, rest peacefully, and not be as stressed about everything,” Henry said on Wednesday, reflecting on his college career and looking into the future. “That’s really comforting to me and my life. Even though things haven’t gone as well as I wished, there have been a lot of good times.”
Henry’s career has been filled with highs and lows. He fondly remembers Purdue’s 2010 road win over then-unbeaten Northwestern, but there was also the torn ACL which ruined his promising 2011 season.
This year was to be Henry’s chance for redemption. He had the starting job, coaches that believed in him, and teammates that embraced him. But early into camp, he saw some red flags.
“I knew the system we had put in, the personnel didn’t quite fit the system,” said Henry. “I knew it would be tough for us, but I didn’t know it would be this bad.”
The youth movement began after Purdue’s first bye week in early October, with Etling taking the starting job and a group of freshmen taking on important roles. The rebuilding process truly took effect.
When these changes took place, there was great disappointment felt by Henry and many of the seniors who were being pushed aside. Still, they recognized the process of bettering the Purdue program.
“It was tough,” said Henry. “There was a little bit of kickback there for a couple days. At the end of the day, we’re all part of Purdue football and want to see this program do well heading into the future.”
Despite the adversity, the seniors stood together, keeping cohesiveness for the program. They pushed the young players in practice and worked hard for their first-year coaches. In the long run of Purdue’s football future, the seniors’ gestures will be seen as an important step.
“They’re fighters,” Hazell said of the Boilermakers’ senior class. “They’ve gone through a lot of situations, hard situations, and I think they’ve managed to stay together as a group. These 21 guys believe in each other, and they fought hard for us, the new staff coming in.”
It takes leaders like Henry to push through adversity. With Henry, Purdue’s seniors responded to the challenge. This is where character stands out.
Henry won’t be remembered in the ‘Cradle of Quarterbacks’ tradition and didn’t win championships. He won’t have any records remembered for years to come, and his No. 15 won’t be retired alongside Drew Brees. But Henry is at peace with five memorable years as a Boilermaker.
“Just being around the game and being able to play, it’s an honor,” Henry said. “Not many people get to play at this stage. It’s been fun. Even though it hasn’t gone the way that I liked it to, it’s still been fun.”
The legacy of Rob Henry is about fighting through hard times, and doing it with character and class. If Purdue rises to the top, his impact won’t be soon forgotten.