Ken Hall is considered the most celebrated running back in high school football history for his national career rushing record of 11,232 yards. The legendary total remained untouched for 59 years — and then Yulee (Fla.) star running back Derrick Henry came along.
Earlier this season, Henry broke Hall's record on a 52-yard touchdown run in Yulee's 41-26 playoff win over Perry. The new mark stands at 11,610 yards.
To think, Henry was just living out his passion, which all started as a five-year-old self-described beast playing against his cousins at his neighborhood ballpark.
“I ran like a wild bull,” Henry recalls of his early days. “I never felt intimidated.”
His Pop Warner days long gone, the U.S. Army All-American Bowl selection shares telling words that illustrate a mature approach to ensuring he stays in the game and continues to play at a high level.
What did you learn after transitioning out of little league?
Henry: When you’re playing with your friends, you could take all day. But when you play in a game, it’s all about the pace and time management. I was always like, ‘I’ve got to get to the end zone before the clock runs out!’
After you segued to high school, how did your mentality shift?
Coming in from middle school, I was with all the big boys [as a freshman]. I didn’t really understand what it meant to be a freshman playing varsity football. It was really crazy.
After my freshman year, I was interviewed by a couple of guys. Coach said things are going to be different now and that I’m going to be a college target, so I’ve got to carry myself in a mannerly way. After that, I approached the game with the mindset of getting better every day.
What did you do to improve yourself?
I started hitting the weights hard before and after practice and focused more in school. In the offseason, I’d go hard every day with my teammates, trying to be a leader. I studied more because I was striving to get straight A’s. I actually made straight A’s my sophomore and junior years.
What else about your preparation shifted?
My nutrition — I wanted to watch my weight and gain more muscle. When I was a freshman, every day after practice I’d eat McDonald’s and all types of junk food.
When I started eating healthier, I felt better during the week and going into games — I had more energy. Now, I drink protein shakes and eat mashed potatoes and fruit and take vitamins so my body can stay healthy.
What have you learned throughout your development that you can offer athletes who want to get to a higher level?
There’s always somebody who is working even harder than you, so work hard every day. I stopped playing other sports and focused a lot instead of hanging out with friends. I’d go home and study to maintain my grades and keep a high grade point average. Now I’m graduating early, so all of that paid off.
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For a look at how Stone Bridge (Ashburn, Va.) defensive end and fellow Alabama commit Jonathan Allen got to where he is today, check out this video: