The final field for this year's Heisman Trophy race is officially set, with three worthy contenders making the cut for Saturday night's ceremony in New York City.
Alabama running back Derrick Henry, Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey and Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson will each hope to hear their name called when the all-important envelope is unsealed.
By now, college football fans everywhere should already know of the statistics that have made these three the front-runners for the game's most famous award.
Henry broke Herschel Walker's SEC record for rushing yards in a season—on fewer carries—with at least one game left to go. McCaffrey has accounted for more all-purpose yardage in a single season than any other player in college football history, passing the legendary Barry Sanders. Watson is the dual-threat leader of the nation's only undefeated team and has top-10 marks in completion percentage and passing touchdowns.
But those stats only tell a small part of the finalists' stories both on and off the football field.
Here are some of the more interesting details of the careers of Henry, McCaffrey and Watson—ones that you might not be able to glean from the average game broadcast.
Alabama RB Derrick Henry
He rushed for more yards than anyone in the history of high school football
Try to wrap your mind around the number of people who have ever played high school football.
According to Emily Kaplan of the MMQB, 1.084 million high schoolers played football in 2014 alone. Now consider that the sport has existed at the high school level about as long as it has collegiately, dating back to the 19th century.
That makes for a mind-blowing amount of players—and Derrick Henry officially rushed for more yards in his high school days than any of them.
Henry holds the all-time career rushing record in American high school football with 12,124 yards in four seasons. He passed Ken Hall, who rushed for 11,232 yards from 1950 to 1953 at Sugar Land (Texas) High School.
When Henry finished his junior season at Yulee (Florida) High School, he was already on a ridiculous pace. But in order to pass Hall and break what had been deemed an unbreakable record, Henry needed to take his game to the next level as a senior.
|Derrick Henry's High School Rushing Statistics|
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He did just that with a jaw-dropping stat line that secured him as the No. 1 athlete in the 2013 class, per 247Sports.
Some considered him "too big" to play running back
The first thing that jumps out on film of Henry's legendary high school career is that he looks like a grown man among a bunch of boys.
That phrase gets thrown around a lot when describing talented athletes, but it seems to fit Henry perfectly. He was a 6'3", 240-pound running back that could run a 40-yard dash in 4.54 seconds. Defenses couldn't match his speed, and they definitely couldn't match his size at the skill positions.
His frame led some recruiting analysts to declare he would be "too big" to play running back, and his running style would be too vertical for him to succeed at the next level.
"We just don’t feel that he’s a natural running back," ESPN.com's Tom Luginbill once said of Henry, per Justin Barney of Jacksonville.com. "We may be way off, but we just don’t see it. His upside for a career beyond college is not at tailback."
His middle linebacker-like size might still give some NFL types cause for concern, but it's made him into an incredible running back at the college level. It's hard to stop a man of that size when he's moving as fast as he does.
He has one of the most memorable nicknames in college football: "El Tractorcito"
If you happen to be on Twitter during any Alabama game and follow the right college football personalities, chances are you'll see a Spanish nickname pop up on your timeline when Henry breaks off a huge run.
Say hello to "El Tractorcito."
The nickname came to Internet fame last season thanks to Spencer Hall of SB Nation and the popular blog Every Day Should Be Saturday:
He picked up the nickname from an ESPN Deportes telecast of the 2014 Sugar Bowl, when a freshman Henry had 161 yards of total offense and two touchdowns on just nine touches in a 45-31 loss to Oklahoma.
"I remember that we called the guy 'Tractorcito' because every time he got the ball, he was pushing and pushing and pushing and pushing," broadcaster Pablo Viruega told Michael Casagrande of AL.com in 2014. "And I remember asking, 'OK, why doesn't Nick Saban put El Tractorcito on the field?' And when we say that, (Henry ran) the screen pass and took it to the end zone."
So if The Little Tractor wins the Heisman Trophy Saturday night, expect to see a Photoshopped image or two of some victorious farm equipment.
Stanford RB Christian McCaffrey
His family "breeds fast white guys"
The blazing speed that has made Christian McCaffrey the new FBS all-time record holder for all-purpose yards in a single season is a product of great training and even better genetics.
Just look at what his family members have been able to accomplish in athletics:
- His father, Ed, was an All-Pro wide receiver who won three Super Bowls with the San Francisco 49ers and the Denver Broncos. (He's now the color analyst for the Broncos radio network.)
- His mother, Lisa, was a soccer star at Stanford, where she met Ed.
- His uncle, Billy, starred on Duke's 1991 national championship basketball team and later broke several school records at Vanderbilt.
- His grandfather on his mother's side, Dave Sime, played football and ran track at Duke. He won the silver medal in the 100-meter dash at the 1960 Olympic Games and once held six different world records.
- His older brother, Max, is in his third season as a starter at Duke and is the Blue Devils' leading receiver with 601 yards and five touchdowns.
Now you see where McCaffrey gets his athleticism—a family trait that led to a famous quote from Lisa in a 1998 profile by Sports Illustrated's Michael Silver.
"That's why Ed and I got together—so we could breed fast white guys," Lisa McCaffrey said.
It definitely worked for Christian and his older brother Max. College football could get two more McCaffreys in the next few years, too. Dylan McCaffrey is a 4-star pro-style quarterback in the 2017 class, and youngest brother Luke was a freshman quarterback this year at Valor Christian in Littleton, Colorado.
He enjoys playing the piano
McCaffrey made a name for himself at Stanford with his work ethic in the weight room and on the practice field, but it's not around-the-clock football and schoolwork for this Cardinal star.
He often likes to take a break by playing the piano, as he demonstrated in a College GameDay piece earlier this season.
McCaffrey doesn't consider himself a great piano player, but it's something he enjoys whether at home or in hotels when Stanford is on a road trip.
"I love fooling around on it, but I never took lessons," McCaffrey said, per Tom FitzGerald of the San Francisco Chronicle. "They have pianos in the dorms. I can get my mind off football and go play a little bit. Fondle the keys, I like to call it. Some classical, some modern. If I hear a song that I like that has piano in it, I’ll try to learn it."
Unfortunately for McCaffrey, as he told ESPN's Gene Wojciechowski in the GameDay piece, his piano skills haven't translated into a way for him to meet girls—as he originally hoped.
He spent two weeks on a mission trip to Rwanda
As a high school recruit, McCaffrey won awards for his excellent work off the field in addition to his on-field success.
McCaffrey told reporters one of the most transformational moments came before he went to Stanford, when he spent two weeks of his life helping build a playground in Rwanda.
What he saw and learned in the African country helped give him a new perspective of his life in the United States, as he told Chuck Culpepper of the Washington Post earlier this year:
"I’ll catch myself complaining about, like, cellphone service, and I’m sitting there like, ‘Wait a second. What am I really doing now?'" he said. "You know, I’m complaining about cellphone service, and there’s real problems in the world. Our problems are not real-world problems, you know, a lot of times, and so it’s something that I definitely look back on."
He stepped off the plane in Rwanda with acute culture shock, and stepped back on it with a sense "so heartwarming and so humbling." His father, former NFL wide receiver Ed McCaffrey, wrote in an e-mail: "He certainly gained an appreciation for the things in his life such as food, shelter and running water, that many people take for granted, but at the same time realized how little one really needs to be happy."
As Culpepper wrote, McCaffrey looks back on the mission trip to Rwanda as a way to keep him grounded as the awards and accolades pile up around him as he heads to the Heisman ceremony this weekend.
Clemson QB Deshaun Watson
Clemson unretired a number for him
Deshaun Watson has a unique patch on his Clemson football jersey thanks to the number that he wears below it.
As a star high school quarterback in Gainesville, Georgia, Watson tore up the football field wearing the No. 4. When he decided to go to Clemson, he knew he wouldn't be able to wear that number anymore—the Tigers retired that number for legendary quarterback Steve Fuller all the way back in 1979.
But according to Andrea Adelson of ESPN.com, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney personally asked Fuller if Watson could wear the No. 4—all without Watson's knowledge.
“He said, 'How do you want to wear No. 4?'" Watson told Adelson. "I said, 'I can’t, I thought it was retired.' And he’s said he talked to Steve and they went to dinner and he said it would be a great idea so I was excited for it and pretty honored that he was going to let me wear his number."
With Fuller's blessing, Clemson brought the No. 4 jersey out of retirement for Watson's true freshman season in 2014. The Tigers enlarged the patch honoring the former Tiger quarterback for 2015, as noted by Uni Watch's Paul Lukas, and Watson has been in Heisman-level form ever since:
"You want to make sure when you do something like that, that you’re doing it with a kid you have no worries about from a character standpoint or a trust standpoint, and he was the perfect guy," Fuller told Adelson.
His basketball skills were almost as impressive as his football ones
At Gainesville, Watson broke the Georgia career state records for total yardage (17,134), passing touchdowns (155) and total touchdowns (217).
Those skills made him the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback in the 2014 class, according to the 247Sports composite rankings.
But in order to get a full look at his athleticism, check out what he was able to do on the basketball court in high school, per NFHS Network:
Earlier this year, he compared his basketball skill set to that of superstar LeBron James in a candid interview with Bleacher Report's Adam Kramer.
"I am an all-around player," Watson told Kramer. "I’m like LeBron James... I can drive, I can shoot, I can pull up. To be honest, you can't game-plan against me."
Those are strong words from Watson, who has focused his gifts on the gridiron in college. But as Kramer wrote earlier this year, Watson scored 21 points—on seven three-pointers—in a single quarter in high school. He's got game, no doubt about it.
Cam Newton is going to vote for him
This year's Heisman race seems up for grabs between the three finalists, but Watson should know he's got support from another dual-threat quarterback who has taken home the trophy.
Carolina Panthers star Cam Newton, who won the Heisman during his 2010 season at Auburn, said last month he would cast his vote for Watson, a fellow Georgia native and personal friend.
"That’s my little brother, man. I’ve seen Deshaun grow," Newton said, per Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer. "When I first met Deshaun he was in 11th grade and he was on my all-star team... For me to see him playing down the road at Clemson, it’s great."
Watson has thrown for 30 touchdowns this season—the exact number Newton had through the air in his 2010 Heisman campaign at Auburn. (The Clemson star has already passed Newton in passing yards.)
Although his rushing numbers don't come close to Newton's, Watson has a few more chances to match the former No. 1 overall NFL draft pick before the season officially ends.
The first would be a Heisman Trophy. The second would be a national championship for his team in a perfect season.
Justin Ferguson is a college football writer at Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JFergusonBR.