Henry Hynoski on Henry Hynoski
In addition to being his father’s namesake, Hynoski is fast becoming known in NFL circles as a conscientious, multifaceted fullback who not only clears running lanes for his running backs, but also is a threat to do damage with the ball in his hands, just as his father was for the Cleveland Browns, who this week face the Giants, during his brief career.
But that’s about where the similarities end, at least according to the elder Hynoski, a former 1975 sixth-round draft pick who saw his budding NFL career come to a premature end, thanks to a shoulder injury.
These days, Hynoski, Sr., who works as a supermarket quality control specialist, marvels at how far his son has come in his brief NFL career. After working to become one of the nation’s top college fullbacks, Hynoski saw his draft stock tumble after he suffered a hamstring injury during the NFL combine that prevented him from taking part in Pittsburgh’s pro day.
Hynoski signed with the Giants as a free agent on July 28, 2011, and would become the only rookie in his class that year to earn a starting job on the offense from day one.
Since then, he’s entrenched himself in the Giants’ rushing game with a yeoman-like effort that not only honors the spirit of the central Pennsylvania coal region that the family calls home, but also carries forth the example set by his “pop,” who, back in the day, was the very definition of a blue-collar, lunchpail type of player.
Leading the Way
Henry Hynoski, Sr. comes from an athletic family that includes his dad, who, after a successful high-school football career, was offered an athletic scholarship to Fordham; his uncle Chester, who played baseball for the St. Louis Cardinals; a couple of cousins, Fred and Walter, who played collegiate football; and another uncle, Tony Costello, who also earned an athletic scholarship to Fordham.
When he enrolled at Temple University as a running back and fullback, he took to the gridiron like a fish to water, earning honorable All-American honors as a senior in 1974 as well as All-East honors.
He is currently fourth on the Owls’ list of rushing leaders with 2,218 yards, and was a featured player in the American Bowl game, where he earned MVP honors for the North team after setting three records.
As a collegiate star, Hynoski, Sr. caught the eye of Blanton Collier, then-head coach of the Browns during Hynoski’s senior year of college.
“Blanton Collier is the one who pretty much recruited me,” said Hynoski, Sr. “Back in those days, they didn’t have the national scouting services like they do today or the Combine. They would pretty much come to the college games and observe you.
“When I got to Cleveland, he told me he saw me play against West Virginia and Boston College and he said he liked that I saw and that I reminded him of Leroy Kelly with the versatility, being able to run, block, and receive and participate in special teams.”
That’s exactly what Hynoski, Sr. did once he was drafted by Cleveland. Playing under head coach and Hall of Famer Forrest Gregg, who replaced Collier that next season, Hynoski primarily backed up Greg Pruitt, who had been a Heisman Trophy finalist.
When he wasn’t relieving his teammates in the running game, or contributing on special teams, where he returned kickoffs and punts, Hynoski, Sr. served as a courier for Gregg and the coaching staff, running in plays from the sidelines—back then, there were no radios in helmets as there are today.
Although Hynoski, Sr. didn’t have as “storied” of a career in the NFL as he had in college, his versatility and sportsmanship would not go to waste, as years later, his son began building his football reputation based on those very same characteristics.
Like Father, Like Son
Hynoski’s earliest memories of his football-hero dad go back to when he was about five years old. During a family gathering, his father’s sister surprised everyone by bringing over what she thought was a tape featuring some of Hynoski, Sr.’s NFL highlights from his days in Cleveland.
“We were all excited to watch it,” remembered Hynoski. “But it turned out that the wrong tape came in; it was actually a highlight tape for the whole Browns team, with maybe four little clips of my dad.”
Those little clips, combined with what he had seen of his father on film from his days at Temple, were enough to stoke a fire within the son, who, right then, knew what he was destined to become.
“My dad and I would always watch Monday Night Football together and I remember those classic matchups, like the Steelers and Cowboys,” Hynoski recalled. “I think what really did it for me was, after hearing the stories about how my dad was a legend around our area, when I actually saw him on that tape, I was able to appreciate for myself just how good he really was.”
Hynoski, Sr., who, back in the day, stood 6-0 and weighed 210 lbs., offered a rare combination of versatility that in the 14 games he played in the NFL, saw him run, catch, return kicks and punts, and even attempt a pass.
“He literally could do anything he wanted on the football field from the film I saw and I think that really does show you what kind of player he was,” said Hynoski. “Just watching him and how quick and decisive he was in doing things and how intelligent he was and how he was always in the right place at the right time.”
Not surprisingly, the son—who, to this day, still shares a close bond with his father—wanted to be like his dad. “I wanted to do everything he did—not just in football, but also off the field, because he’s such a tremendous person,” Hynoski said.
While flattered by his son’s adulation, the elder Hynoski was a bit more cautious about the notion of young Henry following in his footsteps. “I didn’t want Henry to necessarily do things the way I did them,” he said. “I wanted him to be his own man, his own person. Just because I played for the Browns, I didn’t necessarily want him to play for the Browns, and just because I played for Temple didn’t mean that I wanted him to go to Temple. I wanted him to learn from what I had done, and do things that would benefit him and that he would feel comfortable with.”
That’s partially why the father was hesitant to allow his son to play peewee football as soon as he was old enough to do so. Instead, he wanted young Henry to wait until he was in junior high school.
However, as Hynoski, Sr. soon found out, when his son sets his mind on doing something, he doesn’t back down.
After repeatedly pleading his case to his reluctant parents that he was “born to play football,” they gave their permission to Henry to play football when he was in fifth grade, because they felt that by then, he would be more mature in terms of handling the responsibilities that came with the commitment.
Not that they had to worry about that.
“He’s relentless,” Hynoski, Sr. said. “He has a great work ethic and it’s almost like he’s possessed when he puts his mind to doing something; he does it at all costs.”
Hynoski, who said that his parents never pushed him to pursue football, said it was his calling from day one to go out there and carry on the family tradition.
“I think it was one of those situations where people were like, ‘We can’t wait until Hyno has a kid and we can see what he’s made of,’” Hynoski said of his peewee football days. “I think everyone in the area at the time was anticipating the next big player to come out of the area, and since my dad had been the biggest thing to come out of the area, when I born, it was kind of expected that I would be that guy.”
When he started playing as a fifth grader, Hynoski naturally played running back and fullback, as his father had done before him.
He also played middle linebacker.
“I was actually much better as a linebacker than I was a fullback and running back,” Hynoski said. “My dad always thought that was going to be my calling.”
Hynoski, Sr. was mistaken, as once his son advanced to the varsity level at Southern Columbia High School in Catawissa, Penn., he began to focus solely on being a running back/fullback.
By focusing on that one role, Hynoski finished with 7,165 yards and 113 touchdowns, which landed him in ninth place on the all-time Pennsylvania state high-school rushing list.
He followed up his high-school prowess with a productive career at the University of Pittsburgh under Dave Wannstedt, who converted Hynoski into a fullback so that he might have an easier time transitioning to the NFL.
By the time, Hynoski had finished college, he was largely considered one of the top fullbacks in the 2011 draft class. However, success at the next level wouldn’t come right away for the younger Hynoski, whose will and patience were tested.
Blasting Holes Through Adversity
At the NFL Combine, Hynoski drew interest from several teams, including the Browns, whose running backs coach, Gary Brown, was also from central Pennsylvania and who had played for the Giants from 1998 to 1999.
However, on the very same field where, one year later, Hynoski would realize his greatest accomplishment in his young career when he and his teammates won Super Bowl XLVI, he saw his football future flash before his eyes when he suffered a hamstring injury during a 40-yard dash.
“He always had a very successful athletic career, and while he had his adversities, this one here could have been really devastating,” said Hynoski, Sr., who recalled the disappointment he experienced when his career went up in smoke after just one season.
“I remember telling Henry, ‘Look, maybe it’s not in the cards. You pulled your hamstring and couldn’t participate in the pro day. Maybe it’s just not meant to be for you to play ball.’”
But despite not being drafted and having to sit through the NFL Lockout, Hynoski was given a chance when he signed with the New York Giants on July 28, 2011 as an undrafted free agent—a position that typically doesn’t favor the chances of making an NFL team if you’re an undrafted young player coming off of an injury.
Not if you’re Henry Hynoski, Jr., though. When his father would try to prepare his son for the very real possibility that he might not be able to play ball at the professional level, his son showed his dad a dogged sense of determination like none he had ever seen.
“He looked at me and he said, ‘I’m going to play ball, dad, and I’m going to make that team. I gotta prove to everyone they made a mistake by not drafting me,’” Hynoski, Sr. recalled his son saying to him.
“Just the way he said that, I knew he was going to make the team,” he added.
Becoming His Own Man
For as much as Hynoski aspired to be like his father, his NFL career soon took him on a different path. Besides not being drafted, as his father had been, Hynoski was also unable to get one of his dad’s jerseys—36, which Henry, Sr. had worn with Cleveland, and 27, which he had worn while at Temple.
Instead, a new identity for the young man, whom fans affectionately call “the Hynocerous,” was born when the Giants’ equipment manager, Joseph Skiba, offered him number 45, which he thought was a solid number for a fullback.
Hynoski accepted the number, happy to have a chance to wear an NFL uniform at the time. As he reflected on this new opportunity and his new uniform, his thoughts immediately went back to his dad when he realized that his Giants’ jersey number had a special significance that tied in with the numbers worn by his father.
“I was thinking, ‘Yeah that sounds pretty good,’” Hynoski said of his Giants’ jersey number. “Later on, I realized that two and seven, three and six, and four and five all add up to nine, so there was something there that just made it all feel right.”
Interestingly, when he was offered the chance to switch to No. 27, previously worn by Brandon Jacobs, he declined.
“Brandon called me after he was let go and told me he wanted me to have his old number,” said Hynoski. “I told him that it was his number and that while I appreciated the offer, I couldn’t take it because that was his number. He then told me he was going to request my jersey number with the 49ers, which I thought was a good testament to the level of respect he had for me.”
As Hynoski continued to establish his own identity, he was able to accomplish things that his father never had the chance to, such win a Super Bowl in his first year in the league.
He also converted his dad into a Giants fan, even for this weekend, when the Giants face Hynoski, Sr.’s old team.
“Right now, we are all New York Giants, and we’re 100% behind Henry,” said Hynoski, Sr., who usually sports a polo shirt from his son’s “Hynocerous” merchandise or his familiar 45 jersey to Giants games. “I’m actually enjoying this more now with Henry now than when I played.”
What he’s also enjoying is a chance that not too many fathers have with their sons, and that is the bond over the son’s career choice which the father, after having gone through the same ups and downs when he played, can relate to.
“I’m so happy for him,” Hynoski, Sr. said. “He’s a much better ball player than I was. I’m not reliving anything by any means, but it makes me feel good that I can relate to him and what he’s going through, having gone though it myself—the different temperaments and how he reacts and feels. I can associate his emotions with the way I played.
“We have a good rapport with each other,” he continued. “We speak several times a week and I can give him some help because I’ve gone through it—maybe not to the extent that he’s going through, but I can appreciate what he’s experiencing.”
A Lifetime of Memories
Ask both the father and son how the other might have done had he played in each other’s era of football, and the answers each man gives shows just how much respect he has for his namesake.
“Back in my era, the offensive tackles were his size, in that 26-lb. range,” said Hynoski, Sr. “I think Henry would have dominated his competition because he’s an intelligent player, he works extremely hard, he’s big, tough, fast, smart, he can run, pass, punt, kick. He would have done extremely well.”
The son feels the same way about his “pop,” whom he thinks would have fit in very well with the Giants, given his character and blue-collar approach.
“I really think that he would have been a great one,” Hynoski said. “Watching film of him from when he played in college, he did things that you can’t teach that are absolutely amazing.”
“He once took a pitchout around the corner in college and three people came to hit him—a defensive back and two linebackers, and when he hit them, they all bounced off him,” said Hynoski. “He then went an extra 10 to 15 yards for the touchdown and when the camera went back to the guys he ran over, there they were, still on the ground, trying to get up.”
Then there are the memories that the two men have shared since Henry, Jr. turned pro, memories that include the father bursting with pride every time he sees No. 45 for the Giants come running out of the tunnel with his teammates, ready to do battle.
Hynoski, Sr. said one of the recent highlights for him was meeting former Cleveland great Jim Brown at a Super Bowl event last February and learning that the Hall of Famer was very much familiar with the Hynoski name—and not because Hynoski, Sr. had played for Cleveland.
“He asked me if I still followed football, and I told him I did because my son plays,” Hynoski, Sr. said. “So he asked me who my son was and I said, ‘He’s the fullback for the Giants.’ So Jim says, ‘Number 45? I knew I heard that name before. I’ve been watching that kid all season and I like what I see in him; he’s a solid ball player.’ That made me feel terrific to know that the great Jim Brown knew who my son was.”
But nothing can top the memories father and son share from the game itself.
“The best feeling I had was when the Super Bowl ended. I was looking for my parents on the field, and I couldn’t find them because there were so many people down there,” said Hynoski. “Then I just hear someone yell out, ‘Hey Hyno!’ and it was my pop. I saw my parents and both were just so happy with big smiles on their faces and tears in their eyes.
“My parents have never missed a game of mine at any level—they fly all over the country to see me play. After everything we had been through, that was the best gift I could have ever received, seeing the joy on their face after that victory and getting to hold the (Lombardi) trophy on the stage with them.”
True to form, Hynoski, Sr. has a similar yet slightly different memory after the game ended that he says is his favorite.
“Right after (Patriots quarterback Tom) Brady threw that ‘Hail Mary’ pass, we were sitting right in that end zone and when that pass fell incomplete, I remember Henry running down into that end zone and (linebacker) Mark Herzlich chasing him down, grabbing him and embracing him,” he said. “It was just the exhilaration and exuberance of how emotionally drained, yet happy they were.
“I got to thinking about all the adversity Henry had gone through—all the emotional ups and downs, and how now he and his teammates were now the world champions. That will always stick in my mind.”
Team First, Team Last, Team Always
Naturally, the Hynoskis hope for a Giants win every football Sunday, which is the ultimate reward for the week of hard work and sacrifice young Henry and his teammates put in.
Regardless of the outcome of this weekend’s game against the team that gave Hynoski, Sr. a chance to play pro ball and, more importantly, an understanding of how to help his son avoid the pitfalls that doom so many other talented young athletes, what matters the most to both of them is how the “family business” has reinforced Hynoski’s value of teamwork both on and off the field.
“I ask him sometimes if he ever wishes he could carry the ball a little more,” said Hynoski, Sr. “He said, ‘You know, pop, I like what I do. If they want to give me the ball, fine, but it’s not a big deal.’ He’s as happy for any of his teammates that score as if he himself scored, and he’s always happy to do his part.”
“I just hope one day I can give my children the joy and support that my parents have given me,” said Hynoski. “Obviously, football has been a big part of our lives, but the values they instilled in me about hard work, morals, and teamwork are such a big part of who I am, and I’m grateful for that.”