Tide’s Henry showcases talent on big stage
by Marq Burnett
mburnett@annistonstar.com
Jan 04, 2014 | 1639 views |  0 comments | 15 15 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Alabama running back Derrick Henry (27) had a big night rushing the ball against Oklahoma. (Photo by Trent Penny/The Anniston Star)
Alabama running back Derrick Henry (27) had a big night rushing the ball against Oklahoma. (Photo by Trent Penny/The Anniston Star)
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NEW ORLEANS — In the comic book series X-Men, the Juggernaut is a destructive force that is unstoppable when he gains momentum.

Along those lines, the Incredible Hulk is a creature no one likes to see when he’s running angry.

Alabama freshman running back Derrick Henry may be a combination of both. Henry used the national stage of the Sugar Bowl to showcase all of his talents and abilities. Henry scored two touchdowns, made a tackle on kickoff and almost blocked a punt.

In his first interview since National Signing Day, Henry said his performance “was a dream come true.”

“As a kid you always dream of playing college football when you’re playing football as a youngin’,” he said. “Going out there and just being a freshman and putting on for your team, and helping them try to get a victory, I was very thankful for my teammates for the opportunity that I got.”

Before Thursday’s game, Henry had rushed for 282 yards on 27 carries. He showed flashes of brilliance with 111 yards against Arkansas, including an 80-yard touchdown run.

But it all came together during the extra bowl practices and Henry was finally able to play significant snaps on Thursday. Throughout the season when asked about Henry, Tide coach Nick Saban said Henry only ran the ball and never had to worry about pass protection in high school.

His improvement in that area is what earned him the No. 2 running back spot behind T.J. Yeldon. Henry had a key block on AJ McCarron’s 67-yard touchdown pass to DeAndrew White in the second quarter.

“It felt good to know my hard work paid off, practicing and studying,” Henry said. “All week I’ve done a good job picking up blitzes.”

Henry had nine touches and averaged nearly 18 yards per touch. He ran the ball eight times for 100 yards including a 43-yard touchdown. As a receiver, his first career catch went for a 61-yard touchdown. Both scores came in the second half as Henry kept the game close with explosive plays.

At 6-foot-3, 238-pounds, Henry is naturally a bruiser. He broke through every arm tackle and it often took multiple Sooners to bring him down. But what may be the most impressive weapon in Henry’s arsenal is his ability to make cuts and moves in the open field. On his long touchdown run, Henry swiftly changed directions to elude defenders and outran everyone in the open field.

Saban said Henry has consistently improved since arriving on campus, earning every opportunity given to him.

“Derrick had a really good bowl practice,” Saban said. “Actually we decided that he was our second best back going into this game, and we were going to give him an opportunity based on his performance in practice and what he had done and the confidence that he had gained throughout the course of the season in terms of knowing what to do and playing fast.

“And certainly had an outstanding game tonight and did a really good job for us, and I think he has a bright future.”

Left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio said Henry is one of the younger players who could emerge as a future leader for the Tide.

“He does what he’s suppose to do every time,” Kouandjio said. “He’s never late to anything. He’s a good student, good athlete. He voices his opinion. That’s a leader by showing it and by saying it. He’s a perfect (fit to be leader).”
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