It’s hard not to notice just how much Alabama running back Derrick Henry stands out from the crowd, and not just because he’s 6-foot-3 and 242 pounds. He’s also special because his style of play is in such contrast to the rest of college football.
The physicality of the sport has been de-emphasized in recent years. Hard contact on tackling is discouraged. Offenses centered around power running games are disappearing. College football is changing; except no one told Henry that.
In a time when college football seems to be going soft, Henry plays the game with a brutality that borders on the obscene.
It’s tempting to call him a “throwback,” but that’s the wrong word. Sure, Henry is running the football, which is literally the oldest play in the playbook. But his method of churning yards is far too modern to be compared with anyone that has come before him. He adds an element of speed to his raw power that few in the game have been able to match. Those old running backs were “three yards and a cloud of dust.” Henry is more like 15 yards and a trail of smoke.
That rare combination of gifts now has Henry on the verge of winning the Heisman Trophy. This was almost an unthinkable feat as recently as a few weeks ago. At that time, LSU running back Leonard Fournette seemed anointed as the SEC running back who was heading for New York City. Yet Fournette has recently faltered, and Henry has stepped in to take his place.
In doing so, Henry is putting himself into the conversation of greatest running backs in recent college football history.
There have been four running backs to win the Heisman Trophy since 1998, including Reggie Bush who was forced to vacate the 2005 award. Henry has a higher average yards per carry this season than all but one of those runners did during their Heisman seasons. Henry also has more rushing touchdowns than all but one of those Heisman winners did.
Of course, Henry still has the potential to play in four more games, assuming Alabama advances all the way to the College Football Playoff championship. His statistical resume should be even more impressive by season’s end. This is especially true given the fact that Henry’s Alabama team concludes the regular season this Saturday against an Auburn team that is 11th in the SEC in rushing yards allowed and 13th in the SEC in rushing touchdowns allowed.
If the Iron Bowl plays out like most experts expect, Henry will be in a prime position to become just the second Heisman Trophy winner in Alabama’s storied history. It’s a rare accomplishment befitting a player with a truly unique skill set.
For Henry, just another way in which he’ll stand out from the crowd.