An oral history of epic high school career of Titans’ running back Derrick Henry

Even with Henry’s prodigious talent, he was still just a freshman for Yulee, and the Jaguars already had a returning starting running back. Henry’s hold on the starting position seemed tenuous at best.

Conner Petty, Yulee High School quarterback, Class of 2011: “I remember going into the season, there was a question, ‘Who is our running back going to be?’ It seemed like there might be some speculation. He got thrown into varsity, and his first game, he has 190 yards and six touchdowns. In the first half.”

Ramsay: “I took him out at halftime, and I really don’t know why I did that. Maybe the only time I ever did that.”

Petty: “I remember coach Pat [Dunlap], who passed away from lung cancer recently and was very close with Derrick … being on the sideline [that day] saying we needed to pull him. He was saying this is going to be a Boobie Miles situation.”

By Week 2 of his freshman year, the Yulee coaching staff fully understood the kind of talent it had in Henry. At that point, the coaches didn’t just hand the keys to the car to Henry. They rebuilt the car to take advantage of Henry’s talent.

Barney: “I’ve done this since 1998; my first game was Week 2 of the ’98 season, and at that time, there was a guy name Ciatrick Fason. I think he beat the area record of 6,912 yards set by Willie McClendon. He was a four-year player, big back, ran hard. Having covered him, we’ve seen a pretty darn good running back, and I don’t know if we’ll see someone comparable. Then a guy named Maurice Wells came in — later signed with Ohio State — and he was the only guy to hit 3,000 yards in one year. After that, Tim Tebow came along, and he started a spread phase here, and I thought, ‘We’re never going to see a four-year back again.’ Then Derrick came in, and he was otherworldly.”

Clayton Freeman, Florida Times-Union sportswriter: “Through his first month, he had 730 yards and 10 touchdowns. I’m pulling up an article from 2009 now: ‘Henry is a freshman but certainly doesn’t look or play like one for the Hornets. The 6-4 bulldozer at 215 pounds is punishing opposing defenders. … He’s in that Brandon Jacobs mold. [Jacobs played for the New York Giants.] He also has deceptive speed for as big as he is. It gets late in games, and I can tell opposing defenses are tired of tackling him.’ The size, the speed on top of the power and the way he kind of sledgehammered defenses to death — that really hasn’t changed very much.”

Ramsay: “He understood the game really well for a ninth-grader. One game late in the year, I called timeout. We’re trying to score to win it, talking about plays, and the offensive coordinator suggested something. Derrick said, ‘Coach, we did that two weeks ago and they got us.’ I was like, ‘Oh yeah, how’d you remember that?’ Players who are that good, they see the game a little differently.”

Petty: “Our offense was built to do anything. We could line up in spread, empty if we wanted to. That was in the playbook. But when you have a running back like that, it makes play-calling pretty easy. I jokingly tell people it’d be 3rd-and-15, and instead of running play action or a pass, it was a toss [to Henry]. Only I’m not joking.”

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