It is not unusual to see Derrick Henry do unusual things on the football field. He is big and deceptively fast, has an extraordinary stiff arm, and has surprising mobility for a 6-3, 242-pound tailback.
His performance on the field has been instrumental in Alabama being 10-1 and ranked second in the nation. It’s also a reason he is considered by many to be the front-runner for the Heisman Trophy as the Crimson Tide prepares for its final regular season game at Auburn Saturday. (Kickoff is at 2:30 p.m. CST with television coverage by CBS.)
But Alabama followers expected such numbers from Henry, who had been a back-up to T.J. Yeldon last year, but still led Bama in rushing with 990 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Those who have followed Henry closely, though, may have been surprised to see the usually unemotional junior hugging his teammates after Alabama’s 56-6 win over Charleston Southern in Bryant-Denny Stadium Saturday. Henry was seeking out the seniors who had played their final home game.
“Those guys do a lot for this program,” Henry said. “They put in a lot of time and hours in. I just wanted to say thank you and I appreciate them.” He added that senior leadership has been “very good. The guys work hard; been working hard since the off-season. They carry the team with a chip on their shoulders and go out there and work hard and have set a good example for the young guys this year.”
Henry has always given the impression of being reticent, but his teammates credit him with being one of this year’s leaders. He was asked about adding responsibility of leadership. He said, “I just go out there and try to practice hard and just carry myself the way I know I need to carry [myself] so the guys have something to look up to and something positive to look up to by the way I play, by the way I practice, by the way I carry myself around here. They’ve been doing a good job, just all the older guys. It’s just been fun this year, playing with this team.”
“I just try to talk to the guys. I just try to motivate them anyway I can. I feel like my way is being vocal to them and let them hear me and just give them motivation. Whatever I’ve got to do to get them going.”
He agreed with what some of his teammates have said about this team being the best in several years for leadership as it hits the stretch drive. “Yeah, I’ve noticed a lot like that,” he said. “A lot of guys, they just buy in and we’ve got great leadership and everybody just knows to [stand] it so as long as we keep doing that everything will take care of itself, but it’s been a fun year and all those guys just having fun, playing football, the game we love.”
Henry has become a celebrity, whether he wants that status or not. That includes doing interviews, including national interviews. “They come with the game,” he said. “I’m still focused on Auburn right now. That’s who we play this week, so we have to practice right, prepare right to get ready for Saturday.”
There was some amusement when it was learned that one of The University’s professors sought out Henry for an autograph. “No celebrity factor,” he said of autograph seekers. “They go to school here, they teach here, they love football. She just asked for an autograph.”
Henry has had a tremendous season to date. Although he played just one quarter last week (scoring two touchdowns), he is the second leading rusher in the Southeastern Conference and among the top five in the nation with 249 carries for 1,526 yards (6.1 yards per carry) and 21 touchdowns.
But when the subject of personal accomplishment is raised, Henry deflects it. “We’re not worried about that,” he said. “We just got out there and work hard and prepare and practice right for this Saturday. I don’t need to focus on things like that. We still have a season to play, so I’m just worried about how I prepare.”
He was complimentary of Auburn’s defensive front, and particularly the Tigers’ star defensive end, Carl Lawson.
“I haven’t had time to watch film, but we will today and I watch games on them, they’re very physical, big defensive line, very fast so we have to prepare right. Carl’s going to make plays. He’s their big playmaker on defense and does a great job, very fast, very quick, very physical, so we got to make sure we prepare right to get ready for him.
“We just got to focus on us and how we prepare and what we do throughout the week and what Coach [Nick Saban] talks about. So as long as we’re doing that, everything’ll take care of itself.”