Harry Henschler had a unique path in becoming a college football player.

The UW–Whitewater junior leads the Warhawks (2-3) in sacks with 6 1/2 heading into Friday’s 7 p.m. game against UW-La Crosse. But the defensive lineman admitted that his focus hasn’t always been on the gridiron.

“It’s a funny story,” Henschler said with a laugh when asked about his football background.

Henschler played football in his youth before realizing that ice hockey was his favorite sport. He attended Milton High School and played for the Madison Capitols AAA team his freshman year of high school, but something was missing.

“I wanted to play high school hockey really bad, but Milton didn’t have a hockey team,” he said.

Henschler took his talents to Craig, where he joined the Janesville Bluebirds co-op hockey program. In the fall, he went out for the football team to meet new people and make friends at his new school.

“We were very happy to have him,” former Craig head football coach Ben McCormick said. “He made us so much better on and off the field as soon as he joined the program. He is so passionate about the game and he really committed himself to football.”

Henschler had success on the football field, but his mind was still set on hockey. After graduating, he realized that he wanted to try to play college football instead. It’s a choice that changed his life.

“I was focused on hockey to be honest, but the more I thought about football after high school the more I realized that I wanted to go for it,” Henschler said.

He was late in the recruitment game, but Warhawks head coach Kevin Bullis was happy to bring him aboard.

“Him being from Janesville and being so close to us made it easy for us to hear about him and recruit him,” Bullis said. “When I think of Harry Henschler I think of grit. He works his tail off in the classroom, and on the football field it’s the same thing-–pure grit.”

Henschler is a leader for his team, according to the head coach.

“He works his tail off in the weight room and he expects the same of his teammates,” Bullis said. “He is a mentor and a leader and he pushes them to grind away at every single thing that they do. Whether it’s on the field, in a meeting, or socially, he impacts the people around him in a big manner.”

Henschler was originally recruited as a linebacker by the Warhawks but after he served on the defensive line scout team at practice, Bullis liked what he saw and decided to move him to defensive end permanently. It’s a move that has benefited both parties.

“A year ago he really made an impact with his pass-rushing ability. He’s got a lot of speed for a lineman,” Bullis said.

Last year Henschler played primarily on third down as he was still adjusting to his new position. So far in his junior season, he has been everything the coaches hoped for and more.

With Henschler averaging more than a sack per game, the Warhawks lead the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference with 21 as a team. Henschler recorded a season-high three sacks in a 40-21 win over Washington University of St. Louis on Sept. 16.

“It’s hard for someone to just jump in and figure it out, and we needed him to be an all down and distance player,” Bullis said. “We knew he had the smarts and the ability to do it and that is exactly what he has done so far this year.”

Henschler said that the challenge is one he was excited to take on.

“I try to really focus on the technique and trying to read what the tackle is going to do to tell if it’s a run or a pass,” Henschler said. “If I’m going to do something, I’m going to do it the best way I can. There is no point in doing something if you’re not all in.”

His old coach isn’t surprised by Henschler’s success at the college level and foresees even more in the defensive end’s future.

“He’s poised for a good final run here,” McCormick said. “He’s an intense guy with a big heart. I couldn’t say enough good things about him. I hope my two boys turn out like Harry.”

It wasn’t how he planned it, but Harry Henschler is a football player, something he takes a lot of pride in.

“Going to Craig was a game-changer for me because I wouldn’t have played football at all without them,” Henschler said. “I can’t say thank you enough to everyone at Craig and here at Whitewater. I am excited to see where the rest of my time at Whitewater takes me.”

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