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San Diego - He's a recent graduate in Nebraska's College of Engineering and the Huskers' career scoring leader, even if he did arrive in Lincoln as an all-state punter who spent several months deciding whether to accept a soccer scholarship at Creighton or see if he could experience the ultimate dream as a Cornhusker football walk-on.
With a story as mind-boggling, logic-defying and record-breaking as Alex Henery's, even the mild-mannered, soft-spoken, place-kicker/punter couldn't pretend to be unflappable when Chad Wade asked him an interesting question recently.
"Alex," asked Wade, "do you think there has ever been any other player in the history of college football that became a first-team AP All-American who wasn't even voted first-team all-conference by his own league's coaches?"
Henery, whose father (Guy) works in the computer business in Omaha and mother (Mary) is a medical technologist at Creighton, also has an older brother (Eric) who is grad student in Civil Engineering at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh and a younger sister (Andrea) working on her bachelor's degree in Industrial Engineering at Nebraska.
Small wonder that Henery found Wade's question so fascinating he didn't bother to feign disinterest.
"I don't know the answer to that," he told Wade, an assistant on NU's strength and conditioning staff. "But if you really think about it, the odds are probably not very good that it's happened more than once."
Spoken just like the analytical thinker Henery was known for while growing up in Omaha and continues to be now that he's on the verge of becoming the most accurate place-kicker in NCAA history. If all goes according to plan and Henery's powerful leg sustains its collegiate pace of perfection in the NFL, count on one of football's most self-instructional practitioners to evolve into a well defined assembly line of kicks and punts that can light up the scoreboard and keep opponents pinned deep in their own territory.
Osborne: Henery Best Kicker He's Seen
Who knows what the future holds for a professionally trained engineer who was so gangly that Nebraska hall-of-fame coach-turned-athletic director Tom Osborne admitted a couple weeks ago that he never would have guessed Henery was a football player when he first met him, let alone someone who is arguably the greatest kicker in college football history.
Looks, as we all know, can be deceiving, and kicking is about having a powerful leg, veins of ice water and nerves of steel rather than an excitable temperament, wandering thoughts, moments of fear or worst of all, even a shred of personal doubt.
Talk to Osborne, Bo Pelini, John Papuchis or any teammate that sees what Henery does every day in practice besides what he achieves on Saturdays. All will say something like this: If you're looking for the next Adam Vinatieri, with a little bit of Ray Guy sprinkled in for good measure, draft this smart, savvy, competitive, humble Husker as high as humanly possible.
If you do, you can set yourself up for life, or at least a decade or two, which, in pro football, is like life, especially when you consider that the top 25 career scorers in the history of the NFL are all kickers.
Henery believes Oakland's Sebastion Janikowski, a kicker he tries to watch as often as possible, is the only kicker ever drafted in the first round, but our research shows two others - Steve Little and Russell Erxelben. Maybe those last two scared off NFL teams from rolling the dice, but once teams read Henery's resume, they'll understand why he's worth the investment.
Two days before the last game with his college teammates, it's time to climb inside the head of Alex Henery, and see why he was voted a season captain, became the latest Guy Chamberlin Trophy Award winner and Special Teams MVP and is on the threshold of becoming a featured attraction in the NCAA's All-Time Record Book.
Let's try 10 questions, a number that symbolizes one who constantly seeks perfection:
1) Are you aware that Kris Brown, the longtime NFL kicker you passed as Nebraska's career scoring leader, did not make any first-team all-conference honor and that he predicted you would become the school's all-time greatest kicker shortly after you kicked that record 57-yarder against Colorado as a sophomore?
"Kris has been a kicker I have always looked up to, and not just because he was our all-time scoring leader, but because of the way he conducts himself off the field. He and Josh Brown have both had long careers in the NFL. They set the standard around here, and they both put the team ahead of themselves. They've been great role models."
2) John Papuchis says the greatest thing he can do as your kicking coach is make sure that he doesn't interfere with the momentum created by your best kicking coach - you. He also says your calm, cool, calculated demeanor is a big part of what makes you great. What's your take on those two observations?
"My mom was the oldest of eight kids and retired from work when my sister was born, so she could stay at home and spend more time with all three of us. She became our soccer coach. She had no clue how to coach, but went to the library, started reading books about soccer and really learned the game. Through hard work, she became a good coach. She's like my dad...very quiet, but a real perfectionist...our whole family is kind of that way. We don't really like to talk about ourselves, but we don't really doubt ourselves either. Whether you're learning soccer or learning kicking, it's like learning golf. Learn what you're supposed to learn and then just keep practicing so you can keep getting better and more confident. I study kicking, so I almost always know what I'm doing wrong and try to adjust. That's what kicking is - teaching yourself, so you understand what you're doing rather than listen to what others are saying. You have to stay calm to be effective. You have to use your own adrenaline for focus. The more pressure you have, the more adrenaline you get. It can help you if you choose to focus on what you have to get done and the technique required."
3) Can we take a risk here and talk about all the records you're breaking? Do you know that going into the Holiday Bowl against Washington, you are the career NCAA leader in the following categories: 1) Career percentage of PATs and field goals made; 2) career field goal percentage overall with minimum of 45 attempts; 3) with minimum of 55 attempts; 4) 40 yards or more; 5) 40 to 49 yards; 6) 30 to 39 yards; 7) under 40 yards; and 8) most career games with 4+ field goals? People laughed when you told them you thought the 57-yarder at the end of the Colorado game was a good kick, but isn't it your cardinal rule never to let any single kick become bigger than others?
"I've always tried to keep everything pretty simple and never get too high or too low. I keep telling myself I can make it, and everything will work out okay. You can't let your mind wander any more than that or you'll get in trouble. It's the same with awards or records or anything like that. They can't become your goal or your priority. I like the way we practice and compete at Nebraska. Everything is geared to winning and to the team. That always takes precedent over individual accomplishments, and that's the way it should be."
4) Even Tom Osborne confessed that he was hoping you would get a few more chances to kick field goals in the Big 12 Championship Game because he was fairly certain you could have converted just about any kick up to 60 yards. What was your mindset in that game?
"The key for everyone on this team is how close we are and how we stick together, no matter what happens. We all tried our very best to win both of those championship games, and no one ever gave up. We fought through some key injuries in both games and stuck by each other to the very end of both games. That's all we can ask of ourselves - giving our very best from start to finish."
5) Let's address Coach Osborne's comment more directly. When you kicked that 53-yarder at Cowboys Stadium earlier this month, everybody thought it could have been good from at least 60. Could it, and what was the longest field goal you've ever kicked in practice?
"The way it hit the net, I'm estimating it probably would have been good from 60. The longest field goal I've kicked in practice live was 64 yards at the Hawks Championship Center. The longest I've hit inside Memorial Stadium was 60 yards. I think that's happened twice."
6) You've been perfect in post-season games at Nebraska - 6 of 6 on field goals in the Big 12 Championship Games (averaging 43.7 yards per field goal) and 8 of 8 on field goals in the Gator and Holiday Bowls (averaging 39.5 yards per field goal). Two of those games were indoors in Texas and two were outdoors - one in California and one in Florida. What's the psyche up for the post season?
"Part of it is getting some extra rest for your leg and kicking in some ideal conditions. I'm excited about being in San Diego for another bowl game. This is a fun city, and there's a lot to do out there. I have a cousin who's in the military getting married about the same time, so it's all good. We're eager to play."
7) Time to talk about your other role. You were an all-state punter as well as an all-state soccer player in high school. You chose to walk on and compete for the punting job. How did the place-kicking rise above the punting?
"I came here to punt, but I didn't get the job. Dan Titchener and Jake Wesch got the job. I came here the same time Adi (Kunalic) came. We became really close friends and when Jordan Congdon left, the job was wide open. I've always been taught there's no harm in trying to learn something new, so I learned a lot from Adi about kicking and ended up winning the job. He's a great kicker, one of the best. He's a real weapon for us kicking all of those touchbacks on kickoffs. We're still very close and always will be. He's a great friend and a tremendous teammate. I learned how to learn and that helped me get back into punting. I don't feel the pressure to punt, but I prefer kicking over punting now."
8) Coach Osborne believes not only are you the best college kicker he's ever seen, but also the best punter because of your ability to place the ball so often inside the 10-yard line. Even if an NFL team doesn't open up both jobs to a player with your skill sets, Coach Osborne believes you could end up handling the "trick-shot" punts in the pros in addition to the scoring kicks. Any preferences?
"If I needed to punt, I could do it, even though I love kicking more than I do punting because I've worked harder at it and have perfected the technique more and like the nuances of kicking more. Janikowski has the strongest kicking leg I've ever seen, and I like to watch (ex-Husker) Sam Koch punt for the Baltimore Ravens. He's my favorite punter. I've never met Kyle Larson, but he's a good role model, too. To get the bounce you need inside the 10, it has to be intentional. It can't happen by chance. It might be kind of hard to do both in the pros. I think the pressure of doing both might be .... overwhelming."
9) You mentioned a couple of ex-Huskers, so we'll ask you a trivia question. How many punters in the history of Nebraska football have been named first-team All-Americans and who are they?
"I think Kyle Larson is the only one I know."
10) You are correct answering that trick quesion. Last question. How many place-kickers in the history of Nebraska football have been named first-team All-Americans and who are they?
"I'm still trying to get over the shock of being named to the AP first-team, so I'm not quite sure who the others are."
Of Those Blessed, His Name Leads All the Rest
Let the record show that of all the names the top football organizations have blessed, Alex Henery's name leads all the rest. Yes indeed, the one who was spurned by his own conference coaches is Nebraska's one and only first-team All-America place-kicker.
How great is he? Consider this. Right now, Henery is the NCAA career percentage leader for field goals measuring 40 yards or more. He has connected on 26 of 33 attempts from that distance (78.8 percent). In second place is Georgia's Billy Bennett, who has converted 31 of 43 for 72.1 percent.
That means if Henery tries three field goals against Washington and misses all three, he will still finish as the NCAA career field goal percentage leader at the big boy distances.
The gap is even bigger in the 40 to 49-yard category where Henery has hit 22 of his 23 career attempts for 95.5 percent, and second-place Jeff Jaeger of Washington has hit 19 of 23 (82.6 percent).
"It's hard to visualize my picture hanging outside our locker room someday as a first-team All-American," Henery said.
Sorry, Alex. Because your honor is so well deserved, the only thing that would be hard to visualize would be if no NFL team decides to draft you in the first round.
Just make sure whichever team commits to you in whatever round, promise everyone that you won't ever, under any circumstances, elect to fake a punt and run the ball anywhere in the open field.
That option may have worked wonders in Stillwater, but I wouldn't recommend it anywhere else.
Voices from Husker Nation
Alex Henery's 57-yarder against Colorado is my all-time favorite. We had other Nebraska fans over for the game, and everyone in the room was saying it was a mistake to try such a long kick. They thought we should go for the first down. I said if Henery wasn't capable of kicking it that far, Bo Pelini would never let him try. I said we're going to win this game with a record field goal, especially since we're playing Colorado. Thank you, Mr. Henery, for one great memory. Lonnie Irvine, Cheyenne, Wyoming
I loved the story on Alex Henery. He is my all-time favorite player. I saw that 57-yarder from the vantage point of television, and the shock on Bo's face when Alex made it. I also saw Alex running down the field in Stillwater. I was yelling, "Go, Alex, go!", while at the same time saying, "Don't get crunched, Alex, you're not very big!" I also saw the absolute joy on Bo's face when he saw Alex take off. It is so good to read good things about our players instead of reading about DWI's or coaches getting slaughtered about a moment in time. Alex has impressed me because he is quiet and humble, and seems to have a good head on his shoulders. The thing I like most about Alex is that he wants to be remembered as a person and the good things he has done, not just as one heck of a kicker. I wish him the best, and "Go, Alex, go!" Becky Larson, Grand Island, Nebraska
The time has come for all of us to give Alex Henery the ultimate tribute. He is a Husker Legend in every sense of the word. Now that he reigns over our career scoring charts, it's interesting to see the company he is in. The other four among the top five are the two kickers he passed - Kris Brown and Josh Brown - and two Heisman Trophy winners - Eric Crouch and Mike Rozier. Like you, I firmly believe that Alex's stature will rise as the years go by, and we watch him show the NFL the greatness he has worked so hard to achieve. Congratulations Alex. I hope you split the uprights the rest of your life.Steve Thomas, Phoenix, ArizonaIt
It figures that Henery is an engineer because he's a machine on a football field. In the two league championship games and bowl games, he's scored 49 points by himself. Going 12 for 12 is amazing. He not only had kicks of 53, 52 and 50 yards, but field goals from 48, 47, 45, 42, 42 and 41 during that streak. Wow! It was interesting to read why his mind is every bit as sharp as his leg. Thanks for writing the best story I've seen on our team's most valuable player, hands down. Steve Green, Denver, Colorado
That was great stuff on Alex. It made me think about the 10 most memorable kicking plays of all time for or against Nebraska. Here are mine (topped, of course, by Alex): 1. Alex Henery vs. Colorado, 2008. A 57-yard field goal gives NU a 33-31 lead with 1:37 remaining. 2. Tom Goedjen of Iowa State, 1972. Goedjen missed an extra point with 23 seconds left in the game that would have given ISU a victory over #2 Nebraska. The game ended in a 23-23 tie. 3. Josh Brown vs. Colorado, 2000. A 29-yard field goal on the final play of the game gives NU a 34-32 win. 4. Efren Herrera of UCLA, 1972. Herrera kicked a 30-yard field goal with 22 seconds remaining in the game to give UCLA a 20-17 win and snap Nebraska's 32-game unbeaten streak. 5. 1994 Orange Bowl. Byron Bennett misses a 45-yard field goal attempt on the final play of the game that would have given Nebraska a one-point win over Florida State and the national championship. 6. Ryan Bailey of Texas, 2006. His 22-yard field goal with 23 seconds remaining lifted the #5 Longhorns to a 22-20 victory over Nebraska. 7. Byron Bennett vs. Colorado, 1991. Bennett had a second-quarter PAT blocked, and the Buffs returned it 85 yards for two points that ultimately allowed CU to tie NU, 19-19. 8. Billy Todd lines up to kick and ... it's a fake field goal vs. #3 Alabama in 1977, and Randy Garcia tosses a 7-yard TD pass to Rick Berns to give NU a 10-7 first quarter lead. NU won the game, 31-24 - 'Bama's only loss that season in a national runner-up finish. 9. During a tight 7-3 NU victory over Oklahoma State in 1974, the Cowboys have Nebraska pinned deep, and NU's Randy Lessman uncorks a 68-yard punt. It draws a "Man, Woman, and Child" from Lyell Bremser.10. Rich Sanger vs. Oregon, 1971. As a 7th grader, I firmly believed that no one could replace Paul Rogers. Sanger's first-ever PAT attempt was good, and my NU kicking worries - manufactured by adolescence - were over. Okay, one more: Any of Dale Klein's seven field goals against Missouri when he wrote his name into the NCAA record book, just like Alex Henery has done. Kevin Horn, Alliance, Nebraska
I was so glad to run into your column online and see your great article on Alex. J Marshall Stewart, Las Vegas, Nevada
I keep track of your stats on Huskers.com, and I know everyone looks at the field goals and the punting, but I find it amazing that Alex has made 192 of his 193 extra point attempts. That's 99.5 percent. I find it equally incredible that only two of his eight career missed field goal attempts have come from inside the 50. We call him Amazing Alex out here because unlike California kickers, he isn't exactly always kicking in the sunshine. Dick Stevens, Thousand Oaks, California
I'm going to miss the practical way Alex Henery answers questions. I'm going to miss Alex Henery period. You'll never find a better kicker in all of College Football. Nor will you find a more humble one. I watch his 57-yard field goal all the time on YouTube, and I get excited every time I watch. And when I saw it happening right before my eyes on November 28th, 2008, I couldn't help but stand amazed and in awe at what he had just done. My brother kept telling me we were going to lose that game. I have kept that kick in his face ever since. I'm so glad Alex Henery decided to become a Husker!! It has served us and him well. We would never have won that game against Colorado if it hadn't been for him. Thanks for being a Husker Alex!!! I'm REALLY going to miss you. GO BIG RED!!! Susanna Hall, Lincoln, Nebraska