For Henry Hynoski, Football Is All in the Family
Henry Hynoski, an undrafted free-agent out of Pittsburgh signed by the Giants prior to the start of training camp, was the nation’s top-ranked fullback coming out of school.
A 6 -2, 260-lb. prospect, Hynoski is the very definition of being a “lunch pail” guy who already has been drawing high praise from his coaches and teammates for his workmanlike approach to the game and his unassuming manner.
“That’s a pure fullback in the pure fullback position,” said Giants’ head coach, Tom Coughlin. “Hopefully, he’ll be the physical presence we need.”
For the 22-year-old Hynoski, his is a story that exemplifies what a little bit of humility—and a lot of hard work—can lead to.
Born to Play Football
In 1975, Henry Hynoski, Sr.—who played his college ball at Temple—was drafted in the sixth round by Cleveland. During his brief NFL career, the elder Hynoski, who described himself as “a ‘tweener between a halfback and a fullback,” was known for his hard-nose style of play, tenacity, and the very same lunch pail-type workmanship that he’s passed on to his name’s sake.
When his career ended, the family laid down roots in the small rural town of Elysburg, PA, where football is very prominent. As a former NFL player, Hynoski, Sr. was afforded all the accolades that come with having strapped up a helmet, no matter what level.
Those accolades weren’t lost on the younger Hynoski, who would sit wide-eyed and attentive, as others told story of his father, the athlete. So profound was the impact of those stories that it was only a matter of time before Hynoski, Jr. knew what he wanted to do when he grew up.
When Hynoski, still in grammar school at the time, informed his parents of his desire to follow in his father’s footsteps, his father, while flattered, had some reservations.
“I wrestled with that,” admitted Hynoski, Sr. “I was trying to hold him off until junior high, but he just kept pushing; finally, I succumbed, and let him play when he was in sixth grade.”
“He told me it didn’t matter if I played football,” recalled Hynoski, Jr. “But I’m from an area in Central Pennsylvania where all people care about is football. Growing up, I heard these stories about my dad and how everyone looked up to him, so from that point on, I really wanted to follow in his footsteps.”
Looking back, Hynoski, Sr. realizes that he and his wife made the right decision in allowing their son to pursue his dream, even if he was a little too young.
“He just showed a great interest and intelligence for the game,” the elder Hynoski recalled of the budding athlete.
Not surprisingly, Hynoski took an active interest in helping his son—who also participated in other sports— become the best athlete possible. Kathy Hynoski recalled how, from an early age, her son was always outside frolicking with his father, tossing around some sort of ball and learning the basic rules of sportsmanship.
Despite having a flirtation with other sports, young Henry stuck to his guns about wanting to play football, so his father did what he could to help him develop the skills and knowledge he’d need to be successful.
“When he told me that he was ‘born’ to play football, we just worked on his overall game,” said Hynoski, Sr. “We tried to work on him becoming a balanced player. He has a tremendous arm—he can throw a football 70 yards. He’s also a very good punter; he’d make a good backup punter, I think. He’s going to do very well on special teams.”
As a running back for Southern Columbia Area High School, Hynoski capped a very successful career as a running back with 7,165 yards and 113 touchdowns, ranking him sixth in Pennsylvania state history.
In his senior season alone, he recorded 2,407 yards and 42 touchdowns on 206 carries, an average of 11.7 yards per attempt. Those numbers were more than enough to earn him the Pennsylvania “Class A Player of the Year” honors from The Associated Press.
When he wasn’t excelling in football, he was making a name for himself in baseball and track, all while maintaining excellent grades that led to his receipt of the Distinguished Honor Student Award from the National Honor Society.
Despite his success as a football running back, Hynoski felt that something was still missing from his game. When he was being recruited by several colleges—one of which was Penn State, whose head coach, Joe Paterno, knew of Hynoski’s football-rich family—Hynoski decided to enroll in the University of Pittsburgh.
“Coming out of high school, I didn’t have a lot of experience in blocking,” Hynoski said. “I knew I was going to go to college to be a fullback, and while a lot of colleges were telling me how much I was going to get the ball, Pitt was very honest with me.”
Dave Wannstadt, former Panthers head coach, told Hynoski that their goal was to help develop him into a complete football player.
“They were very honest with how they wanted to use me, and how they wanted to use me was what I wanted—I wanted to become a complete back,” Hynoski said.
After redshirting in 2007 and primarily serving as a special teams player the following year, Hynoski saw his opportunities increase in 2009. That season, he played in 13 games, 7 as a starter, and finished with 24 carries for 107 yards and a touchdown, plus 15 receptions for 109 yards.
In 2010, he carried the ball just 12 times for 34 yards and a touchdown, and added to his career totals 25 receptions for 174 yards and another touchdown.
When he wasn’t busy getting his hands on the ball, he was thrilling Pittsburgh faithful fans with bone-crushing hits that often sent defenders awkwardly flying backward, earning him fitting monikers such as “Rhino” and “Hank the Tank.”
Yet, as Hynoski continued to do the dirty work typically required of a fullback, he became more and more driven to dominate his opponents.
“My dad always tells me that to be a great fullback, you have to have the right mindset,” the soft-spoken Hynoski shared. “You have to be able to go out and hit people every play. You have to be the meanest person out on the field, but a gentleman off it.
“That’s how I try to live my life.”
Draft Day Heartbreak
When Wannstadt was fired as head coach of the Panthers program, Hynoski, who had a year of eligibility remaining, had to make a decision about his future. He could either stay in school another year or enter the draft as an underclassman.
He chose the latter, largely because he had earned his degree (“He graduated cum laude,” his mother stated proudly) and because he thought he was ready for the next step.
“I talked to my dad about it, and he gave me some guidance, but left it up to me,” Hynoski said. “He told me that he thought I was ready to move on to the next level.”
“It was a good move for him to come out early,” his father explained. “He had his degree, and he showed a lot of physical maturity. He was playing very good ball, and was already ranked as the top fullback in the country, so I didn’t think there was any benefit for him to return for one more season.”
With his parents and older sister firmly behind him, Hynoski declared himself eligible for the draft. Initial projections had him ranked anywhere from a fifth to seventh round pick, though he hoped that by having a strong showing in the annual NFL Combine, that he might convince NFL teams in search of a big, bruising fullback with good pass-receiving skills to think of him even sooner.
As luck would have it, however, Hynoski strained his hamstring, an injury that he believes sent his draft stock tumbling.
“I pulled it on my first 40 at the 25-yard line and I hobbled through for the last 15 yards, and actually had a pretty bad reported time, even though I crossed the finish line,” Hynoski recalled, adding that he was unable to finish the rest of his testing.
If that wasn’t bad enough, with his college Pro Day just two weeks later, he was forced to withdraw from the event, leaving NFL teams with his college tape and some Combine measurables that didn’t come close to reflecting what he was actually capable of doing.
However, rather than sulk over his misfortunes, Hynoski quickly saw the “silver lining.”
With the NFL lockout in full swing, he knew he had time not only to heal, but also to work himself into the best shape of his life. As soon as his hamstring injury was gone, he went right to work with three different trainers who helped him improve his strength, speed, and core.
Then there was the aspect of being able to take his time to research the various NFL teams that might be looking for a fullback—a luxury that many undrafted free agents don’t have in the days following the draft under normal circumstances, given the sense of urgency teams have in signing players to participate in their rookie mini camps.
Working mostly with his mother and his agent, Hynoski completed his homework with the same attention to detail he brings to the football field. When he had completed his research, the Giants ended up being high on his list for prospective employment.
“We always liked the Giants,” said his father. “To us, the type of football they play was just a natural fit for Henry, and we were quite comfortable with them.”
Fortunately for Hynoski, the Giants were also interested in him. The team’s previous fullback, Madison Hedgecock, was coming off his second injury-filled year, and would later be released after being diagnosed with a degenerative disc disease in his back.
While Hynoski didn’t have a chance to meet Hedgecock in person before he was released, he said the former Giants player was one of the pro fullbacks whose style he admired.
“I think we’re very similar in blocking terms,” Hynoski said of Hedgecock, whose textbook-style lead blocking from 2007-2008 was often used by Pitt coaches to demonstrate proper technique and execution and was often featured on teaching tapes Hynoski used to watch.
Another similarity between the two is that both were unconcerned about getting attention. During Hedgecock’s time with the Giants, his blocking was usually an afterthought whenever a running back posted a 100-rushing performance.
If Hynoski lands the starting fullback job—and right now, with no other fullback on the roster, it looks as though the job is his for the taking—don’t go looking for the rookie to want to share the spotlight.
“A fullback plays for the love of the game and honestly, I don’t care about being recognized,” he said. “I just want to be out there and play football because I love the game. It’s so pure; there’s nothing like it. If I get my name mentioned in the paper, then great. If I don’t, that’s fine, too. I’m just out there to help my teammates any way I can and help the team win.”
The Secret Weapon
While Hynoski understands his job will be to clear holes for Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw, one distinct area where his skill set varies significantly from Hedgecock’s is that Hynoski is a legitimate receiving option.
In Hynoski’s three seasons at Pitt, his father estimated that he dropped “only two or three passes.” Further, as a receiver, Hynoski was trusted to run more than just the standard check-down routes.
“In college, I had a lot of experience running receiver routes—fan routes, bows, comebacks, and stuff like that. I was used a lot like an H-back, so I had to run those basic intermediate routes,” Hynoski explained. “I’m very confident in my ability to catch the ball and be a good route runner.”
With the tempo of training camp having been scaled back to meet the new CBA rules, Hynoski hasn’t really had a chance to hit anyone at full blast, though he’s looked good in the drills. As a receiver, he’s credited QB Eli Manning for helping him get up to speed on the passing aspect of the Giants’ offense—an indication that perhaps the coaches plan to see what Hynoski can bring to the table in that area.
“The hardest part in the first few days was learning the different pass routes off the different pass protections, and Eli was there to help me pick that up,” Hynoski said, adding that he’s much more comfortable in his knowledge of the fullback’s assignments and is confident of being “at full speed by the preseason games.”
Not that this comes as a surprise to his father.
“He’s an intelligent guy, and Pitt and the Giants run similar offenses,” he said. “It’s a matter of connecting with the terminology, but the emphasis and the play selection are pretty similar.
“Henry is such a student of the game. He’s almost like having another coach out there because he knows not only his assignments, but also what the other players are supposed to do,” he added.
As Giants’ running back coach, Jerald Ingram, once said, “A good fullback can clean up a lot of mistakes without many people realizing it.” This is a theory Hynoski subscribes to, as well, and is a driving force behind his desire to know what his teammates’ assignments are supposed to be so that if he should have to lend a helping hand, he’ll be able to do so.
“When I’m in a running play, I want to know exactly what my front side guard is going to do, what my front side tackle is going to do on every look, every possible scenario, so that I know what defense they line up in, where the hole could open up pre-snap, where it could develop, etc., that instead of just going off of raw looks,” he explained.
Carrying on the Legacy
If Hynoski is successful in his quest to become the only rookie to have a starting job on the offense, his accomplishment will place his family’s name into the NFL record books with the likes of the Mannings, Matthews, Grieses, and Longs—families that have seen at least two generations take a snap with an NFL team.
As for his father, who said that he and his wife plan to attend both the Giants’ home and road games, if their son does indeed makes the final roster, he can count on continuing to hear from his son, who has been calling home every night to discuss his jam-packed day of football.
“I just try to give him encouragement and support, and to build up his confidence,” said Hynoski, Sr. “I tell him to listen to the coaches and place the emphasis on what they’re telling him to do regarding minute technique matters.
“At this level, sometimes the difference is having to fine-tune the little nuances to make you a better ball player. If he listens to his coaches and never stops paying attention to those little details, there’s no reason why he can’t fulfill his potential.”