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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Monday, January 24, 2022

UW defensive lineman Henningsen earns scholarship

For most on the Badgers’ football roster, this past week was focused on rebounding from their disappointing loss to BYU and preparing to open their Big Ten schedule against rival Iowa.

For redshirt freshman defensive lineman Matt Henningsen, that week started with a surprise.

UW announced last Monday that junior kicker Zach Hintze and Henningsen — both of whom joined the Badgers as walk-ons — earned scholarships. They became the eighth and ninth players on the current roster to earn scholarships after beginning their careers as walk-ons.

“It’s awesome,” Henningsen said. “It’s a fantastic feeling. You’ve finally earned what your goal has been since you started playing football. It’s a lot of fun playing football, but getting that scholarship is something special.”

Henningsen was thrust into a more prominent role after preseason injuries forced junior defensive end Garrett Rand to miss the entire season and sophomore defensive end Isaiahh Loudermilk to miss Wisconsin’s opener.

The Menomonee Falls native worked his way up the depth chart throughout spring and summer camp and was listed in the two-deep depth chart to open the season. Henningsen has recorded 10 tackles through the first four games and started the opening two games against Western Kentucky and New Mexico. Still, the announcement still came as a surprise.

“It was completely unexpected,” Henningsen said.

Henningsen heard the news in a team meeting, and needed about two hours after he got back home to process it before calling his parents, who were the first people he told.

Defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard knows a thing or two about being a walk-on. Before playing 10 seasons in the NFL, Leonhard started his career as a walk-on at Wisconsin. Leonhard earned a scholarship and recorded 21 interceptions in addition to being named an All-American three times. To him, Henningsen is more than worthy.

“It’s huge,” Leonhard said. “Obviously that was the route I took. Any time you see guys put in the work that he put in and earn the role that he has on the team you want to be able to reward him, and coach Chryst was able to do that this season. It’s just awesome — you start talking to him and you see the smile on his face and ask him what mom and dad thought. It means so much. As a player, it’s that validation that ‘I’m doing the right things, you guys are noticing the work that I’m putting in.’ It’s just a really cool experience for a kid.”

Henningsen has a bright future on Wisconsin’s defensive line and will be a key part of the defensive trenches as Big Ten play heats up. 

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