How Derrick Henry left a lasting mark on high school naysayers
They are educational counselors and nurses and commercial real estate brokers. They teach math, guide quail hunts, and run logging businesses.
But about a decade ago, they played high school football in Florida, where they had the privilege of being gunned down, stomped on, and overwhelmed by Derrick Henry, who continued to treat the tacklers as minor nuisances at the University of Alabama and with the Tennessee Titans. .
As a teenager, Henry was only slightly shorter than his listed NFL dimensions (6-foot-3, 247 pounds) and ended his playing days at Yulee High, north of Jacksonville, with 12,124 rushing yards, the national record . The game he beat, against Taylor County, he rushed for 482 yards and six touchdowns.
“You think you did well — you’re the No. 1 tackle, have the most interceptions,” said Davis Helm, a former Taylor County safety officer, “then someone fires fire from artifice with you trailing behind him. It’s hurt, man.
Helm and many of Henry’s prep peers were eager to share stories of what it was like to play against the best, biggest, strongest and fastest player they had seen.
Henry, after missing nearly three months with a broken foot, will return Saturday for the AFC Tennessee’s top-seeded Divisional Round playoff game with Cincinnati — and those peers will follow. Here is what they said about him:
Excerpts from interviews have been edited for clarity.
West Nassau quarterback Reagan Wright, a financial consultant, played football as a child against Henry: At this age, you would see a bunch of chubby 150-pound kids getting off the bus. The moment we got to college and he came downstairs, you’re like, “Who is this guy?”
West Nassau cornerback Brett Woodle (5-9, 160), an academic advisor at the University of North Florida, also played Henry in college: They offered it to him and let him do his thing. He stiffened me in the dirt and my dad said, “Maybe you should grow up a bit.”
West Nassau linebacker Brandon Mattox (5-10, 210) teaches math there: He has no arms. He has legs he calls arms.
Trinity Christian Academy linebacker Hughston Higdon (5-11, 190) is a fighter guide: He lined up at the tailback and was bigger than his linemen.
Matox: Before the game in Yulee, my girlfriend arrives early because she knows the stands will be full. I’m in the locker room getting myself together and she knows it’s best to call me before a game, but she calls me and says, “I need you to meet that NFL player sitting across the street. of me. It will boost you. I get up to the bleachers and say, “Where is he?” I wanted a photo or an autograph. She points a few rows down, and I say, “That’s Derrick Henry, their running back.” She says, “Oh my God.”
West Nassau defensive end/outside linebacker Dalton Delano (5-11, 175) is a medic: When we played Yulee, it was not a big study week. It was tossing the ball to Derrick, it was running right or left, and can we stop it or not? And we certainly couldn’t.
Taylor County right guard Blaine Brenner works at a building materials company: Our defensive coaches were telling our guys, “Don’t, for any reason, hit that guy above the waist because he’ll turn you into a poster boy.” These are the exact words.
Bolles School defensive tackle Michael Cassidy (6-1, 265) is a commercial real estate broker: Our nose guard would pretty much jump into center’s legs for a few guys to fall on him. That would eliminate one to three guys every play. If we were lucky enough to take out a center or a guard, that would leave room for tackles and linebackers. As long as you can take his legs out or trip him up a bit and have two more guys jump on his back, you’re fine.
Helm (6-4, 180) works at a building materials company: When he stiffened me with the face mask, I had honestly never been hit so hard. I only saw a flash. My earpiece came out and his arm didn’t even touch my skin and my eye swelled up. I stood up and couldn’t see out of my right eye.
Woodle: As a backside corner, my job was to knock this guy down because I had an angle with him. By the time he got to midfield he was coasting, so I approached within five yards of him, thinking, ‘I’m going to catch this guy.’ I don’t know if he heard footsteps, but he turned and looked at me, then hit another gear that I’ve never seen before or since.
Interlachen linebacker Dijon Green (5-9, 185) is studying for his nursing tips: One of our safeties at the time got caught in the middle of the field against him. He didn’t say it in the coaching room, but he made it clear to us that he missed a tackle on purpose because he didn’t want to get run over. He was one of our most impactful goalies, and he says, “I don’t want that guy.”
Matox: We set up by attacking the single leg instead of his hips – trying to attack the near thigh, the nearest thigh – so when he was trying to throw his stiff arm you were trying to hit his wrist and make him miss your helmet or your shoulder just enough to attack his thigh. We did this for 15 minutes every day, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
Woodle: I went and tried to tackle him once and he stiffened me in the face. He grabbed my face mask. I felt like I was being hit by a boxer.
Taylor County free safety Will Tuten (6-2, 180) operates a family logging business: My senior year, I think he had 305 or 310, and he broke the Florida record in one season or something. I think I had three or four solo tackles. You know, I say tackles – I forced him out of bounds. Anyway, they announced it afterwards on the public address system. I look up, my heart is broken, and this guy goes jogging and does back flips on the court in full pads.
Woodle: I see Derrick running on my side of the field, and the first thought that comes to my mind is: “I have to go one-on-one with this guy.” I think he will try to shake me off. He just put his shoulder against my chest and knocked me down. It took my breath away. I put this piece on a highlight strip. I thought it would show colleges that I was strong enough to take a hit.
Closed off: I was like, “I’m going to knock this guy out.” I decided to put my helmet directly into his shin and try to break his leg. So I rolled into that pile and hit him with the scary crown of my helmet. He looked at me and said, “Don’t do that again. I was like, “Uh.”
Matox: One piece in particular I thought was hot shit. I had a solo tackle to tell my son about: In the backfield, it was a failed block. I had a very high opinion of myself until 10 minutes later. It was me and him in midfield. I read the play perfectly. I was in the hole. The next thing I know is my helmet is in the dirt. His hand is on the helmet. As I look up he enters the end zone 60 yards later.
Brenner: He was probably the best extra point blocker in the world. He would just get off to a good start and time the snap up and be over the center’s head when he snapped the ball.
Closed off: The way our coaches got us excited was, “They have fireworks over there. If he runs more than 300 or 400 meters, they will explode fireworks. And we’re like, ‘We’re not going to let him. They’re going to have to put the fireworks in the locker room. And damn if he didn’t. They blew up these fireworks, and they were brilliant.
Closed off: My last year, we went up there and they were going to do 2 at the end to beat us. I was coiled up on what would be the weak side and he was still running on the strong side. He looked at my wire [expletive] and nodded to the quarterback. I said, okay, he’s running over here. Dude, I ran into the apartment, grabbed him and prayed someone else would come.
tuten: When I wake up, I think a little about him. I have a lot of shoulder pain from football, and I’m sure he’s the culprit.
Matox: My freshman year, we lost to Yulee by one point. This offseason at the start of my senior year when I was lifting weights, I was finishing every set, regardless of the lift, doing extra sets at 240 pounds because that’s Derrick’s weight.
tuten: I had a high angle on him once – I actually tackled him from behind – and I remember his foot catching me under the chin as I slid down his [expletive] tree trunk legs. He unbuckled my chin bar and knocked out my top clip.
Closed off: If you hit him too high, he would stiffen your arm. If you hit him in the midsection, his legs and his hips, there’s no way to do it. You hit him too low, his legs hurt you. The only thing I could do – I was long, 6-4 and 180 pounds – was jump on him and hang on and hang on. Because you’re not going to spill it. My dad said to me, “You’ll think about it later when he turns pro.” I’m like, “Neh.”
Cassidy: One of my old Facebook profile pictures showed me wrapping his ankles. I’m sure he got away.
Fernandina Beach linebacker Alex Vrancic (6-2, 190) is a captain in the United States Marine Corps: This might be the best way to remember that you played Derrick Henry and made it out alive: you’re not on social media, you weren’t on “SportsCenter”. My claim to fame was to stay off his highlight reel.
Matox: My son, he is 7 years old, and he plays Madden with him. And every time he stiffens someone, he goes, “Daddy, that’s what Derrick did to you?” I’m like, “Oh my God, my son. I have to live with this the rest of my life.