Kraft Bowl: 'God must have a plan for me' — Trulon Henry
SAN FRANCISCO — Of course, there is pain. Lots of it.
But that doesn't matter to Trulon Henry. What's more important to the senior linebacker is getting on the field one last time for Illinois.
And, somehow, it's going to happen.
"I've got nine lives, literally," Henry said.
On Nov. 13, Henry was shot in the arm at an off-campus party while coming to the aid of some teammates. Initially, he was ruled out of the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.
But about two weeks after the shooting, Henry went to trainer Nick Richey and started talking about getting ready for the bowl.
"Trulon is an extremely tough kid," Richey said. "He said, 'If there is any way to try to play, I would really like to do it.' "
Richey and team doctors Robert Gurtler and Cliff Johnson, the Illini hand specialist, helped Henry get to the point where playing wouldn't do further damage.
"Everybody's comfortable letting him try it if he wants to do it," Richey said.
It's another piece of Henry's football journey, one that included a stay in federal prison for armed robbery, a sympathetic junior college coach and a Big Ten program wanting him to continue his career.
That career appeared over in mid-November after the bullet went through his hand and broke his forearm.
"God's got a plan for you. When stuff happens to you like that and you almost lose your life, that's all you can think about," Henry said. "God must have a plan for me. He must not have wanted me to die that day. He must not have wanted me to die in jail. And so forth and so forth. I keep that in my mind when I go through my daily life. Eating a sandwich and simple stuff like that, that people take for granted, I don't."
Why try to come back?
Henry said he wants one last game with his teammates. He ran onto the field for Senior Day, but wasn't in full uniform. The Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl becomes his Senior Day.
"Now, I get to go put on a helmet and make a tackle," Henry said. "It will be for my team. It's awesome."
Henry wasn't going to be allowed to play Saturday without first getting in some practice. Wearing a heavy cast with thick padding, Henry has participated in both workouts at Oakland's Laney College. After Wednesday's workout, Henry admitted there was pain.
"I don't know why," Henry said. "Maybe blood pressure going to it, the pounding, a little bit of everything."
"We can protect him as much as we can," Richey said. "We can't take away some of the pain. So, it's all about what he can and what he can't deal with. He's done a great job with it."
Against UCLA, Henry cast will cover a 1/2-inch thick pad. Any decisions on pain medication will be made on gameday.
Henry's playing time will be determined by the coaches. Vic Koenning said Ashante Williams will likely start and Henry will serve as a backup.
"Of course, you want to play," Henry said.
Henry's teammates are amazed to have him back.
"I can't believe he's even attempting to play," linebacker Ian Thomas said. "He has a lot of heart. We're going to support him."
There will be limitations. It won't be as easy for Henry to intercept passes. He's got five in his Illinois career.
"If he can run around, fly around, get to the ball and make some tackles, I'm sure that's all he's really looking forward to," Thomas said.
After the bowl, Henry will get to work again. This time, for a shot at the NFL. The priority is to get his injured hand healthy.
"I'm going to be rehabbing my hand and running," Henry said. "That's all I can basically do. I can't do too much strength stuff.
"I'll work out for teams and see how it goes. I know I had a good shot before I got shot. Sometimes you take some steps backward."