Hynoski wants Big East title
PITTSBURGH - The radio announcers call him "Hammerin' Hank."
The television announcers can't seem to talk enough about how he seals off blocks.
And according to draft gurus, he's one of the best fullbacks available in next year's draft as a junior.
But while Henry Hynoski is flattered by the attention, a fullback's gaze is always focused on the next obstacle and for Hynoski, and his University of Pittsburgh teammates, West Virginia and a Big East title are dead ahead.
Pitt leads the conference with a 4-1 record, with the only loss coming to UConn, which at 3-2 leads a contingent of teams still technically in the running to win the Big East should the Panthers slip up.
The other 3-2 team is archrival West Virginia, but unlike last year when the Panthers watched a conference title ooze through their fingers, Pitt is primed to play in its first BCS game since 2004.
"Everything is great right now," Hynoski said after spending three hours watching film on Tuesday evening. "If you were to ask us before the season if we'd take the position we're in, we'd have said yes.
"We lost a couple games early, but our goal has always been to win the Big East championship.
"I can't say how important this game is. Not only is it the Backyard Brawl, but it will mean a lot in the conference. Everyone is really focused. Last year we fell short, and we don't want to fail again."
And Hynoski is a huge part of Pitt's success.
A statistical layman might look at Hynoski's output this season and harumph over the numbers, considering they're no where near Hynoski's yardage in high school.
But in his fourth year away from the Southern Columbia campus, Hynoski has learned to relish being known more for his dominating blocking than total yards.
"It's very nice," Hynoski said of the national attention he's gotten. "Right now I don't get the opportunity to touch the ball very often. My role has changed from high school, when I was mainly thought of as a running back. Now that my primary responsibility is to block, I'm recognized for doing the dirty work and it makes me appreciate all that much more what the guys were doing in front of me in high school."
For Hynoski, going to college was about so much more than football. Always quick to tell people that he was just as focused on getting his degree as on seeing time on the field, Hynoski is just seven credits shy of graduating, making him a rare college athlete to need just four years to finish his degree.
That fact, combined with a resurgence of the fullback position in the NFL, has led many to wonder aloud if Friday's game might be Hynoski's last home game in blue and gold.
Listed at 6-foot, 2-inches, 260 pounds, Hynoski is bigger than any of the fullbacks in last year's draft class, and already has the size most of the starting fullbacks in the NFL possess.
"Honestly, I haven't thought about the next level," Hynoski said. "I'll start to think about it after the bowl game."
Following the last regular season game of this year, Hynoski will need to begin the decision process of whether to go pro or not. What helps in that process is a grading service provided by the league, to give underclassmen an idea if it's worth it to come out or stay in college for another year.
"All I know is I rated very highly for this year and next year," Hynoski said. "After the season, I'll have to look at it a little more, but for right now all I want is to be a Big East champion."
What also makes scouts salivate over Hynoski is his ability to catch out of the backfield. So far this season, Hynoski has caught 18 passes for 129 yards and one touchdown.
Seven of those receptions came at home against Rutgers in mid-October. In the stands that day were three-bus loads of fans who departed Southern Columbia High School at 5 a.m. in order to make it for the noon kickoff.
Hynoski was aware those fans were coming to see him, but claims he didn't lobby head coach Dave Wannstedt for more touches.
"That was unbelievable. With the support from Pittsburgh and at home, it gives you an extra drive," Hynoski said. "It's not just about me. I'm playing for my family, friends, fans and my team.
"There were a couple of passes designed, and a couple that I was the checkdown receiver, but I never asked for more touches. It's just the way the game went."
While that game may have been very close to a regular-season high point for Hynoski, the next game against Louisville illustrated just how fleeting and violent the game is.
Not one to shy away from contact, Hynoski suffered a concussion in the first half, and sat out the rest of that game and needed the following bye week to fully recover.
Ice baths and lots of rest are usually enough for Hynoski to bounce back, but neither helped to fight the dizziness and naseau that accompany a concussion.
The positive for Hynoski is that teams are far more cognizant of the long-term effects of concussions, and unlike other injuries, the onus is less on a player's toughness and more on a strict recovery protocol.
"A lot of my week is spent in recovery," Hynoski said. "I must run 30 lead blocks a game. If I'm not lead blocking I'm in to chip on pass protection, or going out to catch passes and getting hit. Every play I have contact, so my week I have lots of ice baths.
"Luckily, we had a bye the next week after Louisville, so I had two weeks to recover. If we'd had a game the following week, I don't think I'd have been able to play. All that week before the UConn game I had to wear a red jersey and I was non-contact until game day. The rule is you can't play until a week after the symptoms are gone. But they took care of me, and I got a new helmet to wear.
"There are certain things you can tough out. A sprained ankle, a sore shoulder you can play through, but when it comes to your head it's a different story."
So while many area football fans, converted to Pitt fans thanks to No. 27, find themselves watching less of the ballcarrier and more of the lead blocker and wondering what NFL color would look best on the fullback, Hynoski remains focused on his immediate goals - a Big East title and playing in a major bowl game.
"It's one of those things you dream about as a kid," Hynoski said. "When you're in high school you want to win a state title. But now that I'm in college, it's exciting being a part of one of the top teams in America. It's an unbelievable feeling being this close, and I can't imagine what it would actually be like to play in a BCS game."