TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The first time that Derrick Henry met Tim Tebow, the University of Alabama running back admitted to being a little star-struck.
The two college football greats hailed from the same part of Florida, and Henry even grew up rooting for both the quarterback and the Gators.
Little did Henry know that he would eventually break some of Tebow’s records in the Southeastern Conference.
“It's an honor,” Henry said. “I'm always going to give credit where credit is due, and that's to my teammates. I couldn't do it without them. Tebow's a great player, and to be mentioned with him is a great honor.”
Imagine what it was like for Henry at all of the awards banquets. Although he was just the second running back to win the Heisman Trophy over the past decade, there were some pretty prominent previous winners in New York that night including Tony Dorsett.
Someday he’ll be able to attend as well, but it might not be for a while.
When it comes to Henry’s 2015 season, he was nothing short of phenomenal. In addition to taking home Alabama’s second Heisman, he won the two other major national player of the year awards, the Maxwell and Walter Camp, along with the Doak Walker for best running back.
The SEC’s first 2,000-yard rusher topped Bo Jackson’s numbers and broke some of Herschel Walker’s longstanding records. Had Henry returned for his senior year perhaps he might have topped Walker’s career mark of 5,259 rushing yards, but he would have probably needed about 49 total games to top what Walker did in 33.
"I'm not the type of person who's going to compare myself to him, Herschel's a great back,” Henry said during a Heisman Trophy press conference. “I've still got a lot of things to get better at and work at to be in that same conversation. I still have to get better.”
|Derrick Henry's Records|
|Alabama (Single Season)|
|Rushing Yards||2,219||Richardson 1,679|
|Rushing TDs||28||Richardson 21|
|100-yard Games||10||Ingram/Richardson 9|
|200-yard Games||4||Humphrey 3|
|Points Scored||168||Alexander 144|
|All-Purpose Yards||2,230||Richardson 2,083|
|Rushing Yards||3,591||Alexander 3,565|
|Rushing TDs||42 (tie)||Ingram 42|
|100-yard Games||16||Three tied with 15|
|200-Yard Games||4 (tie)||Humphrey 4|
|SEC (Single Season)|
|Rushing Yards||2,219||Herschel Walker 1,891|
|Rushing TDs||28||Tebow/Mason 23|
|Carries||395||Herschel Walker 385|
|Alabama/SEC record books|
Try telling that to all the players Henry ran over this season en route to not just accumulating the most rushing yards in any Crimson Tide season, but smashing the mark by 540 yards—almost 25 percent of his total.
Alabama had only recorded 258 100-yard rushing performances before Henry had 10 in 2015.
Just 11 times has a Nick Saban-coached running back had a 200-yard game. Of them only Henry had more than one (four).
His 46 carries against Auburn set an Alabama single-game record, and 44 the following week against Florida in the SEC Championship Game totaled 90 a mere seven days apart.
Alabama will probably make that a new category in next year’s record book, but to help put that into perspective consider that the most Trent Richardson had in back-to-back games was 64, and Mark Ingram Jr.’s best was 52.
But now that Henry holds numerous Alabama rushing records, his might stick for a while. Granted, the conference marks will give LSU’s Leonard Fournette something to shoot for next season, especially after averaging 162.75 yards in 12 games in 2015, a lot of things contributed to Henry’s season.
In addition to his huge frame (6’3”, 242 lbs.) as Henry was physically unlike any other running back in college football, four important factors worked in his favor:
1. Kenyan Drake had injury issues.
Although the coaching staff initially envisioned more of a balanced running attack—sort of like the previous season when starter T.J. Yeldon finished with 979 rushing yards on 194 carries, Henry had 990 and 172 and both scored 11 rushing touchdowns—Drake’s health prevented that.
The senior running back suffered a leg injury at Texas A&M and a broken arm at Mississippi State but did return to have a critical kick return for a touchdown against Clemson in the national championship game.
With Alabama making a title run and essentially only having freshmen Damien Harris and Bo Scarbrough in reserve behind Henry and Drake, the decision was made to ride Henry as long as possible against opponents like Auburn and Florida.
"People make a big deal about these carries,” Henry said. “I want the ball, I want to make plays, so it's not a big deal to me. It's rare [to get that many carries], but I want the ball. I told coach I want the ball. I want to help the team win. There wasn't a plan before the season. Everyone knows that's what Alabama is all about: running the ball and being physical. I just want to make plays."
2. The postseason
Back when Jackson and Walker played college football, the postseason was just a bowl game after a long break, with no league championship or four-team playoff.
Although Alabama’s passing game was crucial in the Cotton Bowl and the national championship game, Henry quietly had 100 carries for 422 yards and six touchdowns during the three biggest games of the season after enduring the Crimson Tide’s SEC schedule.
3. Jake Coker
Even though Coker was older and a graduate transfer, he was still a first-year starter and didn’t really land the job until after the third week of the season (he turned 23 on Sept. 22, three days after Alabama lost to Ole Miss).
Similar to some of his predecessors during their first year, Alabama’s offense was geared more toward the running game until the quarterback developed to the point that turnovers became rare.
Coker ended up completing 263 out of 393 attempts for 3,110 yards, which was close to Blake Sims’ numbers (252-for-391, 3,487) in 2014 except that Coker had two more games and no Amari Copper.
4. Lane Kiffin
If there’s one thing in particular that the offensive coordinator known for, it’s getting the ball to his best playmaker until the opposition stops him. Obviously the last two years that’s been Cooper and Henry, and four times in the last five years a Kiffin-coached player has finished in the top six of Heisman Trophy voting.
The other two were wide receiver Marqise Lee and quarterback Matt Barkley at Southern California, so Kiffin did that eye-opening accomplishment with players at three different positions. However, this year was different as Alabama won the national championship.
“I do think it's very difficult nowadays to have great skill players who are very unselfish,” Alabama's offensive coordinator said. “I mean it doesn't happen very often. And so to have two guys like that in the quarterback and the tailback, that's very unusual.
“They're never worried about stats, they're never worried about 'I didn't throw this much, I didn't run this much.' Derrick, early in the year, didn't have as many carries as he had late. Neither of them mentioned anything like that. That's pretty unique.”
So was Henry becoming just the 15th player, and fifth running back in NCAA history to win a Heisman Trophy and a national title during the same season, joining Ingram (2009), Dorsett (1976), Doc Blanchard (1945) and Bruce Smith (1941).
It might take a while for another perfect storm during a season that Alabama has a durable running back who’s up for the challenge. That’s probably what it’s going to take for someone to top Henry’s records.
“This year has been unbelievable,” he said.
|Nick Saban-Coached Rushing Leaders|
|Derrick Henry||Alabama||at Auburn 2015||271|
|Alley Broussard||LSU||vs. Ole Miss 2004||250|
|Mark Ingram Jr.||Alabama||vs. South Carolina 2009||246|
|Sedrick Irvin||Michigan State||vs. Penn State 1997||238|
|Derrick Henry||Alabama||at Texas A&M||236|
|Mark Ingram Jr.||Alabama||2009||1,658|
|Sedrick Irvin||Michigan State||1996-98||3,504|
|Mark Ingram Jr.||Alabama||2008-10||3,281|
|Compiled by the author|
Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
Christopher Walsh is a lead SEC college football writer. Follow Christopher on Twitter @WritingWalsh.