So many ridiculous numbers are tied to running back Derrick Henry, the primary author of the Titans’ improbable run to the AFC championship game in 2019. In Tennessee’s stunning playoff upsets over New England and Baltimore, the 26-year-old became the first player with at least 180 rushing yards in consecutive postseason games in NFL history.
Yet no matter what he accomplishes at the professional level, he might always be better known for the absurdity that was his high school football career.
Many have called Henry the greatest running back in the history of high school football on the basis of anecdotal evidence, like the amusing visual of his barreling though teenage opponents like the Incredible Hulk would through a crowd of civilians. But the legend is rooted in fact.
In November of 2012, Henry, then a senior at Yulee High School outside of Jacksonville, Fla., broke the national career high school rushing yards record. He did it on a 52-yard touchdown run during a playoff game in which he posted 482 yards and 6 touchdowns on 58 carries.
“Breaking this record means a lot to me,” Henry, who at that point already had picked Alabama over Georgia and Tennessee as his college destination, told ESPN. “I’m glad I could share it with my coaches, my teammates and all of Yulee. They all helped me get to this point. I don’t think it will really hit me until I’m done with football.”
The record Henry broke, Ken Hall’s 11,232 yards for Sugar Land High School in Texas in the early 1950s, had stood for 51 years.
Of course, Henry’s 482 yards in that playoff game wasn’t even the best total of his senior season.
Derrick Henry high school stats
The clearest evidence of Henry’s high school dominance is the collection of mind-numbing stats he produced over four years at Yulee.
Below is a year-by-year breakdown of Henry’s rushing totals in high school, followed by his career numbers.
(All stats via Max Preps)
- Freshman year
|Rushing yards per game||224.1|
|Yards per rush||7.88|
- Sophomore year
|Rushing yards per game||232.3|
|Yards per rush||8.91|
- Junior year
|Rushing yards per game||217.5|
|Yards per rush||8.45|
- Senior year
|Rushing yards per game||327.8|
|Yards per rush||9.22|
- Career totals
|Rushing yards per game||252.6|
|Yards per rush||8.7|
That senior season is something to behold.
In 2015, Bleacher Report’s Adam Kramer posted on Twitter the game-by-game rushing totals for Henry in 2012. Beyond the aforementioned absurd playoff game against Taylor County, it includes a 510-yard night against Jacksonville Jackson, a state record for Florida.
Derrick Henry high school highlights
Sit back, relax and laugh hysterically as you watch Henry embarrass opposing players in high school.
This video might be considered by some to be NSFW.
Henry was still in middle school when Bobby Ramsay took over as Yulee’s head football coach in 2008, his first such role after years as an assistant at nearby First Coast High School. Ramsay assumed he was in for a rough ride as the leader of a program that had struggled to compile wins; the Hornets went 2-8 in 2007.
“I was like, ‘I don’t know if I can do this,” Ramsay told TitansOnline.com in 2016. “We were bad. My running backs coach kept telling me to hang in there, that there was this kid, Derrick, in middle school. And I would think to myself, ‘We’re about to go 0-10, and there’s this nice little eighth grader down there in middle school I’m supposed to get excited about?’ I’d never seen Derrick.”
Soon after that, of course, Ramsay saw the middle-school version of Henry for the first time: “All of a sudden, out of this group, is this towering kid. I always equate it to a stock having a good month on a chart. It was way, way above the others.”
Cole Willis, who played basketball against Henry in middle school, gave Yahoo! Sports an estimate of 6-2 and “at least” 215 pounds when asked about Henry’s size at that age. Ramsey, though, said Henry was 205 pounds as a high school freshman and a bit taller at 6-3.
Needless to say, the exact measurements were irrelevant.
“From the very beginning of every game we played from his ninth grade on, he was probably the best football player on the field every game he played throughout high school, and that is even in the ninth grade,” said Ramsay. “As a coach, it was like having a big, comfortable chair to rest in everywhere you went because you knew you’d always have this guy who would produce 200 and 300 yards and four to six touchdowns a game.”
Yahoo! recently spoke with a handful of former high school athletes who competed against Henry at that level. (The full article is worth your time.) Below are a few examples of what was a similar experience for all who faced him, including opposing coaches.
— Dalton Delano, linebacker, West Nassau High School: “He was almost like a machine … You just kinda step in there, and get ran over, and accept your fate.”
— Michael Dudzinski, linebacker, West Nassau High School: “It felt like you were tackling a big four-wheeler. … Usually when you tackle someone, it doesn’t hurt you. Tackling him hurt. … Everyone was really sore after the game.”
— Travis Hodge, head coach, Fernandina Beach High School: “If you got him right at the line of scrimmage, or behind the line of scrimmage, (players) would be more aggressive. But the kids knew, when he got to the second level, and it was you and him — all of a sudden, they might trip, or take a (bad) angle, or mistime their angle. They’d make a decision: I got a date with my girlfriend tomorrow. I don’t want to get hurt.”
— James Thomson, head coach, Gainesville High School: “You know, as a coach, I don’t get infatuated with players. I’m never really starstruck. But with Henry? I remember, distinctly, telling him after the game: ‘You’re going to win a Heisman.'”
By the time Henry was a senior, according to The Washington Post, he was able to bench press 365 pounds, clean-jerk 315 pounds, squat 500 pounds and dead lift 550 pounds. He ran a 4.5-second 40-yard dash.
Those numbers combined with his game tape led Henry to be recruited by a ton of colleges. After initially committing to Georgia, he eventually chose Alabama over top options Tennessee, Florida, Clemson, Miami, Notre Dame, USC and Florida State.
All he did with the Crimson Tide was win the Heisman Trophy, the Doak Walker Award and the Maxwell Award as well as the Walter Camp Player of the Year in 2015. He also helped ’Bama win a national title that year, his junior campaign.
“I’ve always been grateful to Derrick that he’s allowed me to do a lot of stuff I never would have done had I not coached him,” Ramsay said. (Ramsey left Yulee in 2017 for the head-coaching job at Mandarin High School in Jacksonville.) “Not only did I get to coach him in high school, but to be able to go to the Heisman, and then seeing him drafted and watching him at Alabama and seeing him in the NFL, it’s a lot of fun.
“As for Derrick, he was always just one of the guys when he was here. Obviously he stood out physically and he was the guy at the forefront, but he was a leader and one of the guys. And he sure left his mark here.”
From Henry’s bio page on Alabama’s football site, below are additional accomplishments and stats that put in perspective how dominant he was at Yulee.
- Rated a five-star prospect by ESPN, 247sports and Scout.com
- Nation’s No. 1 athlete and No. 4 running back prospect
- Member of the 2012 All-USA Football Team, chosen by USA Today
- 2012 Maxwell Football Club National High School Player of the Year
- Parade Magazine All-American and the publication’s National Player of the Year
- MaxPreps National Player of the Year and first-team All-American
- Ranks fifth all time with 153 rushing touchdowns in high school
- 2012 first-team All-State selection by the Associated Press and was the Player of the Year on the All-First Coast team
- 2012 Columbus (Ohio) Touchdown Club National High School Player of the Year