It was a September 2012 day when Derrick Henry made “it” official. Way before he was flying drones in Heisman House commercials, he was shattering national prep records, but after this past weekend’s performance, is that really surprising?
The college years
That Friday in 2012, the then 6-foot-3, 245-pound running back would announce he would play for the ‘Tide and Alabama head coach Nick Saban, as opposed to his original plan to play for Georgia. The Jacksonville (Fla.) area native wasn’t even close to considering nearby Florida or Florida State.
After announcing his college decision live on television earlier in the day, he rushed for 300+ plus yards and six touchdowns in an ESPNU televised prep game, with members of the Jacksonville Jaguars looking on. It was the night America got its first glimpse of Henry, his 39th consecutive 100-yard game.
America’s most recent glimpse of Henry wasn’t too shabby either, which may be of interest to those who like NFL sports betting.
A brief look at 2020
Fast forward eight years and Henry is coming off a Sunday performance in which he rushed for 178 yards and 3 TDs – 140 yards and all three scores of which came before halftime. He continues to prove that he’s a clutch late-season monster in the backfield, with no visible signs of slowing down.
In the NFL’s nearly 100 years of existence, only 55 times has a player reached 220 yards rushing in one game. If Henry hadn’t pummeled Indianapolis in the first half of Sunday’s game (a 45-26 win), he may have posted one of history’s top games, instead of mostly resting in the second half. If you take his 140 first-half yards and multiply by two (halves), you have 280 yards and the 4th greatest game in NFL history.
It’s not like he hasn’t done this sort of thing before. Nearly two years ago, he rushed for 238 yards and four TDs in a win over Jacksonville – the NFL team only a few miles south of his hometown of Yulee (Fla.).
Back to the college football scene
Flashback to eight falls ago, and some opposing high school coaches told me they weren’t even sure Henry would play running back at Alabama. Some told me off the record that they thought Saban was saying “all the right things” to get Henry on campus, with the intention of converting him to defense. Derrick heard those rumors and despised them, as did his head coach at Yulee, Bobby Ramsay. He runs “too high”, I was told.
For a 6-3, 245 pound back, he actually lacked physicality, another said.
He could run east-west when needed and north-south when needed … but a mixture of the two styles on the same attempt was out of the question, another said.
We won’t name those coaches now. What they said about Henry was off-the-record, but clearly they were wrong. He went on to rush for more than 3,500 yards at Alabama, along with 42 touchdowns. In high school, Henry broke the nation’s all-time rushing yardage record by 1950s Texas legend Ken Hall, then met the gentleman at a photo shoot when PARADE Magazine named him the 2012 National Player of the Year.
He finished his prep career with more than 12,000 rushing yards and 153 rushing touchdowns.
Way back then, Henry would walk into a room at Yulee High school, and even his teammates would shut up in awe. He wasn’t your average teammate, his friends would say, even if you’d known him all your life. So many big-name people kept showing up on Yulee’s tiny campus, wowing the front-desk receptionist, or Ramsay in his coach’s office.
Then FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher came through with his southern style charm. New Florida Gators’ offensive coordinator Charlie Weis came in with his NFL stories of coaching with Bill Belichick and having Tom Brady to work with. Then Georgia coach Mark Richt’s friendly style was memorable, and of course, there was Saban on his super-strict schedule, always checking his watch to make sure he was in sync. All of these men and many more roamed the halls of Yulee High School – thanks to Henry.
Now, eight years later, he is leading the NFL in rushing with 1,257 yards – one of only two players with more than 900 yards rushing, and it is not even close.
The “kid” who was supposedly going to end up playing defense in the SEC is doing just fine, thank you very much. Just fine, toting the ball and leading the NFL in rushing.
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