WHILE MAKING THE MEDIA ROUNDS THIS OFF-SEASON, COACH DANNY HOPE TOOK to telling a story when asked about Rob Henry. "His first spring here we had him working on covering kicks," Hope said of the redshirt sophomore. "This spring he was the Number 1 quarterback. So Rob Henry has come a long way."
To understand just how far Henry has come, consider that he didn't start playing QB until his junior year at Trinity Catholic High in Ocala, Fla. Consider that his relative lack of experience made him a relatively unheralded recruit (he had received just one SEC offer, from Vanderbilt) when he arrived in West Lafayette. Consider that entering the 2010 season he was Purdue's third-string quarterback behind Miami transfer Robert Marve and Caleb TerBush.
But then TerBush was declared academically ineligible to play and Marve tore his ACL in Week 4. Hope had always intended to find uses for the athletically gifted Henry, and with starting tailback Ralph Bolden also lost to an ACL injury, Henry quickly became the main source of offensive production. By season's end he was leading the Boilermakers in passing yards (996) and rushing yards (547).
But Henry wasn't immune to Purdue's injury bug. After winning his first two starts he injured the index finger on his right (throwing) hand against Ohio State on Oct. 23. At the time the team said that Henry had suffered a laceration; this off-season Hope revealed that Henry had in fact suffered a "horrific" injury in which the nail and tissue on the index finger of his throwing hand were ripped off, leaving the bone exposed. He didn't throw a pass in the next two games, and Purdue lost both. When he came back as a starter the team still lost, dropping its last three games of the year.
"When he came back he did a good job in spite of being really handcuffed as a passer," Hope says.
Henry's determination and versatility over those final weeks—Purdue scored 31 points in each of the last two games as Henry threw five touchdown passes—helped earn him the admiration of his teammates. They made him the top vote-getter during captain selections this spring. And he also earned respect for his athleticism: While the injury limited his progression as a passer, he was a threat all year on the ground. Against Northwestern he ran for 132 yards, including a 67-yard tear that set up a Boilermakers touchdown.
"I just try to do whatever I can to make first downs and put points on the board," Henry says. "Whatever they ask me to do, or whatever we need to do as an offense, it's my job to execute."
That execution explains why he left spring practice with a grip on the No. 1 job, even with TerBush and Marve back in the mix. Marve, who Hope says "has an NFL-caliber arm," could particularly push Henry this year.
But don't call this a quarterback controversy. "We have a gift, not a controversy," Hope says. "[Henry and Marve] are each other's greatest allies and supporters."
Henry echoed that sentiment. "We'll support each other, and I know our teammates are behind us [both]", he says, "because at the end of the day we're all working toward a common goal, and that's to win football games."