Alabama running back Henry feels like he still has a lot to prove
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. _ Even though the offseason hype reached ridiculous levels and fans were more than ready to proclaim him as more than the next big thing, University of Alabama sophomore running back Derrick Henry doesn’t feel like he’s arrived as a college football player yet, not by a long shot.
Sure the last impression he left with fans at the end of the 2013 season was jaw dropping, but it was still just one game. Now he needs to keep doing it on a consistent level.
“You definitely have to stay humble,” Henry said Thursday evening. “Last year humbled me a lot. It gave me the fuel to go into this season, this fall camp, working hard. I just tune it out — you know what I’m saying? — just come here and go to work.”
For those who didn’t watch the Sugar Bowl, when Henry came off the bench to serve as T.J. Yeldon’s primary backup for the first time, he torched the Oklahoma defense for 100 rushing yards on eight carries. The rookie’s breakthrough performance also included a 61-yard touchdown on his first career reception to help keep Alabama in the game.
The Sooners eventually prevailed 45-31, but Henry still called it a “dream come true.”
Going in he had just 27 carries for 282 yards and Henry still finished third in team rushing, but what might have best demonstrated his progress as a freshman was a play in which he never touched the ball. On AJ McCarron’s 67-yard bomb for a touchdown to wide receiver DeAndrew White, Henry had the key blitz pickup that helped give the quarterback time to make the throw.
Compared to the season opener against Virginia Tech, when Henry looked lost on the field at the neutral-site Georgia Dome, and the contrast was as extreme as Alabama’s colors, crimson and white. Another six months later and the now-veteran calls the pass blocking and blitz pickups his biggest areas of improvement.
“I’m more comfortable,” he said. “I was more nervous, instead of just relaxing and paying attention and just calming down, letting it all come to me. Now, I’m just comfortable, I feel good, I know what I’m doing. I’m more experienced, so when I’m out there I’m just playing fast and doing what I’m supposed to do.”
As for the running with the football part, that was really never in doubt. When Henry recorded 4,261 rushing yards as a high school senior in Yulee, Fla., he broke Ken Hall’s 51-year-old national high school rushing record with 12,124 yards. That not only earned him national player of the year honors from various organizations, but made Henry one of the top prospects in the nation.
What a lot of people didn’t necessarily appreciate was what it took to do all that, especially since Henry’s a bigger running back, listed as 6 foot 3, 241 pounds. The stories have been leaking out, though, like tight end O.J. Howard telling reporters about Henry getting up in the middle of the night and doing push-ups.
“The kid is always working,” senior fullback Jalston Fowler said about Henry in the spring. “I mean always. Whether he’s getting extra in or lifting weights, he’s doing something extra because he wants to be great.
“He’s running a lot harder, trying to run people over out there. He’s a big bull out there.”
More recently was the video of Henry flipping over monster-truck tires as part of his offseason workouts. Perhaps it’s no wonder he looks like he’s trying to turn defenders into roadkill.
“Still working hard,” Yeldon said. “He’s still competing with everybody.”
Now Henry, who averaged a whopping 10.9 yards per carry in 2013, is poised to take the next step(s) in his career. He wants to more of a complete back, and an every-down option. He wants to be more involved in the passing game. He wants to be an even better blocker …
In short, even after being named to the preseason watch lists for the Doak Walker (best running back) and Maxwell (most outstanding player) awards, No. 27 is as motivated and hungry as ever.
“I feel like I still have a lot to prove,” Henry said.
Bet the roadkill just loves hearing that.