Just 101 yards separate Derrick Henry from the hallowed all-time rushing yards record set by Ken Hall in 1953.
Graphic by Ryan Escobar
If it was possible to describe dynamic Derrick Henry
in a single word, it would be consistent.
The 6-foot-3, 240-pound superstar running back from Yulee (Fla.)
has never run for less than 100 yards during his magnificent four-year career. In fact, he has already broken the national record
with 44 consecutive games of at least 100 yards. The previous record was 39.
In his first high school varsity game as a freshman, he exploded for 190 yards and five touchdowns — in the first half. He carried just once in the third quarter and sat out the remainder of a blowout game.
Henry's team could play up to three more games ifit can win in this week's playoff contest.
Photo by Gray Quetti
The entire nation will be focusing on the University of Alabama recruit on Friday night when the Hornets tangle with Taylor County (Perry, Fla.) in a Class 4A state playoff
He needs just 102 rushing yards to take down what is perhaps the most coveted national record in high school football history. Legendary Ken Hall somewhat quietly ran for 11,232 yards during his career at Sugar Land, Texas, and it surprisingly has stood as the holy grail since 1953.
The powerful senior, who runs 40 yards in an outstanding 4.37 seconds and bench presses 360 pounds, can seemingly pick up 102 yards in his sleep.
Read Dave Krider's story on Ken Hall's reaction to Taylor's assault on the record
During his career, Henry has carried 1,244 times for 11,131 yards and 142 touchdowns. In the preseason, his name seldom came up as a threat to Hall's fabled record.
"I just didn't see it being realistic," Yulee coach Bobby Ramsay told MaxPreps. "If he gets 10,000 that's amazing. If he does it, we're going to be in the state finals. It was like the elephant in the room. Derrick and I never talked about it. It's not like it was on a countdown board in our room. It probably will be like most things. You don't appreciate it until a few years later. I hope it will be a great source of pride for the community. He is an ambassador for the community."
Henry supported his coach's story: "We never talked about it," he said. "(But) we knew it was out there."
Early this season, he exploded for a state-record 510 yards in a single game. The very next week he had 362 yards and six touchdowns during a nationally televised 42-6 rout of Glades Day (Belle Glade, Fla.)
and its outstanding running back, Kelvin Taylor. He has been a man on a mission since then.
Now everybody in the country knows it's "out there" and, barring an injury, the record soon will belong to the humble Yulee native, who takes great pride in his school and community located 10 miles south of the Georgia border near Jacksonville.
Henry's desire to be big and fast has driven hisascent into the record books.
Photo by Gray Quetti
When he was born, Henry received the nickname "Shocka" from his grandmother. He explained, "My father had me at age 16 and my mother was 15."
The nickname obviously did not refer to his brilliant football future, but it certainly was prophetic. Henry began playing Pop Warner football at age 5 with his older cousins and always played up a couple age groups because of his size and ability.
He loved running the ball and wanted to be as big and strong as his older cousins, so even as a little guy he began working out furiously.
"I was so crazy about it, I'd run 10 yards and think I got faster," he related. "I'd do pushups and wonder how come I wasn't getting bigger (the same day)."
At age 6 he lamented to his cousins, "I'm not bigger today. It ain't fair that you've got muscles and I'm never getting muscles."
That work ethic, coupled with natural growth, enabled Henry to become a star in middle school where the nickname "Shocka" was reborn in reference to his amazing ability on a football field.
Ramsay said he first heard about the young phenom from one of his assistants, so he had to take a look at the tall seventh-grader.
He recalled, "I looked at the practice field on the goal line and all of a sudden I saw this (tall) stalk. Most kids that age are 5-5 or 5-6. It was comical watching him play in eighth grade. The head coach was told by the principal to take him out of games because other schools were complaining. There's always been a question about his age. He has the most controversial birth certificate since Barack Obama."
For the record, Henry is 18 and will be 19 on Jan. 4, three days before he enrolls at the University of Alabama.
Henry conceded, "I was so much bigger (in middle school) than kids. I played only about one-half of the games. I was mad because I wanted to play."
His size also worked against him in another way. He explained, "My hands were always bigger than the (undersized) ball. When I carried, it would kind of pop out of my hands. Sometimes I ran down the field, it popped out of my hands, I picked it up and ran in to score."
Henry thrust himself even higher on the national scene when he romped for six scores on national television earlier this season.
Photo by Gray Quetti
It's quite easy to picture the recruiting war for Henry's services when he prepared to enter high school.
"After eighth grade, there were a lot of schools trying to get me. I was from Yulee. I didn't pay any attention to them," Henry said.
Knowing he could build his program around Henry, Ramsay could breathe again. This kid loved Yulee (located 15 minutes from Jacksonville with a population of 11,491) and everything about it. The school has 1,060 students in grades 9-12, but plays several larger schools every year.
After his spectacular debut, Henry — by then 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds — never let up. He finished his freshman year with 313 carries for 2,465 yards and 26 touchdowns while sparking the Hornets to a 7-3 record. He showed his superstar potential by carrying on almost every play during the winning 80-yard drive to beat Fernandina Beach (Fla.) 26-22 in the final 90 seconds.
Ramsay wasn't particularly surprised by his star's rookie season.
He noted, "He was so good early, the fact that he was a ninth grader just went out the window. It didn't shock me. He liked to get outside more than he does now."
Ramsay calls Henry's sophomore season "the year where he really stepped out, put it down that he was a one-of-a-kind player."
He ran 303 times for 2,689 yards (8.88 average) and 38 touchdowns.
His signature game was against University Christian (Jacksonville, Fla.) during which the Hornets overcame a 27-10 deficit to post a 38-34 victory. Ramsay said his young star "put us on his back" both offensively and defensively. He had a key sack and blocked a punt. On the winning drive he carried for 30 yards, 30 yards again and then the winning 10-yard touchdown.
As a junior, Henry said, "I feel like I got better and learned more about the game."
Henry is the record holder in Florida for most yardsin a single game.
Photo by Gray Quetti
He closed his junior campaign with 309 carries for 2,564 yards (8.3 average) and 34 touchdowns despite facing more and more defensive pressure.
Henry's senior year has been filled with "Kodak Moments." When he broke the 26-year-old state record with 510 yards against Jackson (Jacksonville, Fla.), he already had 200 yards at the end of the first quarter.
Going into that game, Henry recalled, "Everybody was talking about me passing Emmitt (Smith for the state career rushing record). The holes were there all night. I just kept rolling. It feels good just knowing that my teammates put me in position to get that record. It was very humbling."
The big national-TV victory over Glades Day and ballyhooed Kelvin Taylor was a fun game, according to Henry. "He is a great player and a great person. It gave guys under me a chance that I've had (for exposure). I can't tell you (how many autographs he signed after the game). Now people just send pictures to school for me to sign."
The personable Henry has earned every yard through that ferocious work ethic that kickstarted when he was younger.
"I work out during the season and eat right. I've never been hurt — thank God. I really do work hard, because I want to be the best. I work hard in the weight room. Every day I wake up and try to get better," he said.
Ramsay backs up his star when he says, "He's got a lot of God-given gifts, but he never sat back and said he was going to rest on his laurels. He always works. He's much more patient and has more vision. I'm a defensive guy and I'm not going to write the book on running backs. I'm sort of like the guy who touches up the Mona Lisa. I don't want to create a new painting. I just want to make it look nicer."
Henry said he does not have a specific idol, but he studies great athletes — like Michael Jordan or Jerry Rice — to see how they carried themselves. As far as style, he said he "runs like Eric Dickerson. I'd rather run over somebody. I want to punish the defense. My sophomore year I always looked for the home run."
Off the field, the highly popular Henry speaks to Pop Warner and middle school students and volunteers at nursing homes.
"I want my time in the community to grow," he said.
Snickers candy bars fuel Henry and his assault onthe national record.
Photo by Gray Quetti
One of his major hobbies is collecting shoes. He estimates that he has 60 or 70 pairs. Some are at his home, some at the home of his grandmother and aunts, and some he "gives to my dad."
He's not sure how many pairs of shoes he'll be able to stuff into his suitcases when he heads to college in January. History is his favorite course and he has a 3.3 GPA.
He has big dreams, however, such as winning the national championship and Heisman Trophy and to "be a good person."
For Henry to have a big game on Friday, coaches will have to be sure they have a Snickers candy bar on hand. As a freshman, he started eating one before each game for energy, but now it's a tradition, superstition, whatever. Ramsay noted, "I always joke — keep the town happy. If he wants a Snickers bar, give it to him."
Henry affirms, "I love Snickers. The coach has it in a cooler so it won't melt."
Apparently all he has to do is eat one Snickers bar and he suddenly turns into "Super Derrick." Note to opponents: Grab that cooler before Henry gets to it.
With the career of Yulee's greatest player winding down, Ramsay concedes he'll probably never have another Derrick Henry.
The 33-year-old coach fears, "I cashed in my Greatest Player Ever Card early in my career."