Video: Derrick Henry high school highlights
Watch the Yulee running back break the national high school career rushing mark.
Look up the best jukes in NFL history and Derrick Henry
won't likely show. Not like Barry Sanders, Walter Payton or more recently, Saquon Barkley.
Henry is powerful. Direct. Straight ahead. Relentless. No-nonsense. He knows exactly the direction he's going — north-south and straight toward the goal line — and he does not deviate.
It's much like his personality.
We visited Henry at Yulee (Fla.)
in the middle of November 2012, the week he broke the national high school rushing record. He was refreshingly polite, unassuming and mostly loyal — to the bone and muscle.
Coveted by all the private high schools in and around nearby Jacksonville, the then-6-foot-3, 240-pound manchild (he's 6-3, 247 now) played all four years at local public school Yulee, a town of 28,000 residents in Nassau County that sits 11 miles south of the Georgia border.
On Sunday, Henry, the NFL's leading rusher in 2019, brings the Tennessee Titans (11-7) into Kansas City (13-4) for the AFC Championship.
"When I was in the eighth grade, I took a look at the private schools," Henry told us back then. "I imagined myself there, but I couldn't. This is where I was born and raised. I've been here since I was a little boy. All the sports I played growing up were right here in Yulee.
"I figured I might as well stay put right here and help to put my town on the map and make something out of it."
Did he ever.
That Friday in 2012 he rushed a remarkable 58 times — a state record — for 482 yards (20 yards short of his own state record) and six touchdowns in a 41-26 Class 4A third round playoff home win over Taylor County. On his 13th carry of the night, early in the second quarter, he busted off a 52-yard touchdown burst to break the national career rushing mark of 11,232 yards set by legendary Texas back Ken Hall from 1950-53.
When asked what went through his mind when he crossed the goal line, the soft-spoken thoughtful kid nicknamed "Shocka," took a big giant sigh.
"It's over," said Henry that night after the game while surrounded by reporters, fans, friends and family. "I was happy to get it and to get a little rest. But I knew I had to get out there and help my teammates win a game."
In typical Henry style, he didn't bring any special attention following the record-breaking run that put him at the top of the national heap.
The game wasn't stopped — FHSAA rules forbid it because it was a playoff game — and Henry simply flipped the ball to the referee. With camera crews on his shoulder, Henry jogged to the bench, slapped hands and hugged teammates, caught his breath, then stood and waved to the Yulee fans.
"It means a lot, it really does," Henry said after the game. "I feel privileged and blessed and thankful. I'm just glad to be a part of history. I think Ken Hall is in a league of his own. I'm just happy my name could be placed up with his."
He went on to rush for 4,266 yards and 55 touchdowns that season and finished his career with 1,397 carries for 12,124 yards (8.7 per carry) and 154 touchdowns. He shattered the Florida single-season mark of 4,087 yards by Travis Henry (no relation) but couldn't eclipse the national single-season record of 4,756 set by John Giannantonio of Netcong, N.J.
Though all the numbers, records and runs were impressive, Henry's relationship with his school, classmates, coaches and office workers were most memorable.
"He's just a kind, gentle, young man," said school secretary/bookkeeper Carol Rose said at the time. "Before I ever knew him as a football star I knew him as a human being and he's all good and he's never changed. Every day he pokes his head into my office and asks me how my family and I are doing. Kids don't normally do that. He's just a sweetheart."
Said front-desk receptionist Gina Powell, whose son Jake played basketball with Henry and is affectionately known as his second mom: "He's just a big teddy bear — a sweetheart of a big kid. We're all proud of him."
We caught up with Powell on Friday at Yulee, two days before Henry attempts to get the Titans to Miami for Super Bowl LIV, and she said absolutely nothing has changed with "Shocka."
Direct. Humble. Straight forward.
"Someone just asked me about him today," Powell said. "He's still the same wonderful person as when he worked in this office as an aide. We see him here at least once a year. Sometimes twice a year. If we're lucky, we get him three times. We'll take him whenever we can get him."