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Why Derrick Henry Should Win the Heisman Trophy in 2015

Derrick Henry

Derrick Henry

Running backs rarely win the Heisman Trophy these days. It's happened twice in the last 15 years, the last time coming in 2009 when Alabama's Mark Ingram hoisted the trophy.

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Then again, running backs like Derrick Henry don't come around very often. In fact, there's never been a running back quite like Henry.

The guy is an anomaly. He's been called a freak. A machine. He's been compared to a runaway train. He's 6-foot-3 and weighs 242 pounds. He has the mind, the vision, the devastating stiff arm and the will of a running back, yet he's got the speed of a wide receiver. And it's all packaged into the body of a defensive end.

Slow him down once. And he keeps coming. And coming. And coming. Eventually, this tireless, relentless one-of-a-kind running back wins. He gets his yards. He gets to the end zone. And, more times than not, he gets his team a 'W'.

The former high school legend out of Yulee, Fla., showed flashes of greatness as a freshman at Alabama in 2013 and as a sophomore in '14 — breathtaking touchdown runs reminiscent of the runs he made as a prep star when he set the national high school career rushing record with 12,124 yards.

But they were mere flashes. Henry was not Alabama's feature back those two seasons. T.J. Yeldon was. This season, with Yeldon gone to the NFL, Henry became the guy for Alabama. Oh, and did he ever.

It's been a history-making season for Alabama's No. 2. The numbers tell much of the story. And they are eye-popping numbers that put him in the rare air of two legendary college football running backs, Herschel Walker and Bo Jackson -- both of whom won Heismans.

A lot of very good running backs have come through the SEC since the early 1980s when Walker starred at Georgia and the mid-80s when Jackson starred at Auburn. But none during these last three decades have been on par with those household names.

Well, none until this season. None until Alabama handed the ball to Henry in 2015 and rode him to a 12-1 record, an SEC championship and a No. 2 seed in the College Football Playoff.

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Henry's 1,986 yards rushing this season broke Walker's SEC single-season rushing record of 1,891 set back in 1981. And the four 200-yard rushing games Henry has had this season? The only two other SEC backs to pull off that feat were... yeah, you guessed it, Walker and Jackson.


How about finding the end zone? Henry has been a model of consistency in that department the past year-and-a-half. He's scored at least one touchdown in 18 straight games, currently the longest active streak in the nation and the longest streak by an SEC player in 20 years.

Oh, and as far as the 23 touchdowns Henry has this season? That's tied for the most all-time in the SEC for one season. Florida's Tim Tebow, like Walker and Jackson another Heisman winner, also had 23 in one season as did Auburn's Tre Mason.

It should be noted too that Henry has come up big when Alabama's needed him the most this season. Against ranked competition (No. 20 Wisconsin, No. 15 Ole Miss, No. 8 Georgia, No. 9 Texas A&M, No. 2 LSU, No. 20 Mississippi State, No. 18 Florida), Henry is averaging 180.9 yards rushing per game. In fact, three of Henry's four 200-yard outings came against ranked foes.

And on the biggest stage of all this season, when the spotlight was brightest, when the entire college football world was watching and tuning in, Henry, with his 210-yard, three-TD performance, completely outshined the then-Heisman front-runner Leonard Fournette and helped lead No. 4 Alabama to a 30-16 win over undefeated and No. 2-ranked LSU.

That was the game Fournette was supposed to seal the deal for the stiff-armed trophy, have his Heisman moment. Instead, that was the game the conversation drastically reversed course, with Henry emerging as the new front-runner. And he hasn't let go.

In Alabama's three conference games following the win over LSU, Henry rushed for 204 yards and two touchdowns against Mississippi State, 271 yards and one touchdown against Auburn and 189 yards and one touchdown against Florida. One of the phrases in college football is: "They remember November." Henry, proving he's a finisher, too, has certainly provided some November — and December — efforts to remember.

Numbers, though, don't tell the whole story of Henry. When Ohio State and Oregon were playing for the national championship last January, Henry was in Alabama's weight room. Working out. Vowing to get Alabama back on track in 2015 after getting upset in the Playoff semifinals.

Henry hasn't stopped leading — and carrying — this team since. He does it more with his example and his work ethic than his words. And he does it without fanfare and without drawing attention to himself. Henry isn't one to strike the Heisman pose when he runs into the end zone. And when things don't go right, he isn't one to point fingers or become disgruntled. 

For Henry, it's all about this Alabama team. It's all about getting victories. Winning championships. When accolades or adulation come his way, he always deflects it to his coaches and teammates. Always.

To win a Heisman, you shouldn't have to be a quarterback. And you shouldn't have to be the most versatile guy on the field. You should just have to be the best. And in this 2015 college football season that's what Derrick Henry has been.

— Written by Erik Stinnett, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Stinnett is an experienced college football beat writer who has been covering Alabama since 2009.