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Derrick Henry's High School Coach Recalls Young Star


Photo of Titans running back Derrick Henry as a star performer at Yulee High School (Florida). (Photo by Woody Huband for the Florida Times Union)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. —When Bobby Ramsay took over as a first-year head coach at Yulee High in 2008, he was fired up at ready to go. Ramsay thought he had all the answers, he freely admits.

Ramsay, 28 at the time, was humbled quickly.

"I was like, 'I don't know if I can do this,'' Ramsay recalled this week. "We were bad. My running backs coach kept telling me to hang in there, that there was this kid, Derrick, in middle school.

"And I would think to myself, "We're about to go 0 and 10, and there's this nice little 8th grader down there in middle school I'm supposed to get excited about? I'd never seen Derrick."

Then one day Ramsay drove by middle school practice on the way home.

"And all of a sudden, out of this group, is this towering kid,'' Ramsay said. "I always equate it to a stock having a good month on a chart. It was way, way above the others. I was like, 'OK, this is Derrick.' And the rest is history I guess."

Derrick, of course, was Derrick Henry. On Saturday, when the Titans face the Jaguars, Henry will return to the Jacksonville area. It's where he became a star at Yulee High – between Amelia Island and Jacksonville – before heading to the University of Alabama, where he won a Heisman Trophy.

Henry was a second-round draft pick by the Titans in the NFL Draft.

Henry ran for a national high school rushing record 12,124 yards at Yulee High, including 4,261 yards as a senior in 2012.

"I am very excited,'' Henry said of returning home. "My family and everybody else back home is very excited.

"It is like home,'' he said of the Jacksonville area. "I haven't been in the stadium since we got invited there for the Super 24 they do for the top high school players. So it will be pretty cool to go back there and play."

Henry ran for 58 yards and two touchdowns in Sunday's 19-17 win over the Chiefs. He has three touchdowns in the team's last three games. He now has 412 yards and four touchdowns on the season.

When describing Henry, who was 6-3, 205 pounds as a freshman in high school, Ramsay said it was like "men vs. boys from the beginning." Henry was 235 pounds as a high school senior, Ramsay said, and he's listed at 6-3, 247 pounds today.

"From the very beginning of every game we played from his ninth grade on, he was probably the best football player on the field every game he played throughout high school, and that is even in the ninth grade,'' Ramsay said. "As a coach, it was like having a big, comfortable chair to rest in everywhere you went because you knew you'd always have this guy who would produce 200 and 300 yards and four to six touchdowns a game."

Some stats:

--At Yulee, Henry was five-star prospect and was listed as the nation's No. 1 athlete and No. 4 running back prospect.

--Henry broke Ken Hall's 51-year-old national high school rushing record with 12,124 yards after rushing for 4,261 yards as a senior in 2012.

--Henry was finished his high school career with 153 rushing touchdowns, which ranks fifth all time, including 55 scores in 2012.

--Henry set the Florida high school record with a 510-yard performance against Jacksonville Jackson and averaged 9.2 yards per carry and 327.8 yards per game as a senior.

At Yulee High, Henry's No.2 jersey hangs in the gym, and there's a mural of Henry on the wall by the football field, Ramsay said.

Henry attracted coaches like Nick Saban, Steve Spurrier, Jimbo Fisher and Mark Richt to the school, among others.

"Everyone here is so proud of him. It was great fun to have him,'' said Ramsay, who traveled to Nashville to watch the Titans play the Broncos. He'll be at the game on Saturday in Jacksonville. "When he played in high school, no one wanted to tackle him, and you saw that sometimes in Alabama, and even some of that in the NFL.

"I've always been grateful to Derrick that he's allowed me to do a lot of stuff I never would have done had I not coached him," Ramsay continued. "Not only did I get to coach him in high school, but to be able to go to the Heisman, and then seeing him drafted and watching him at Alabama and seeing him in the NFL, it's a lot of fun.

"As for Derrick, he was always just one of the guys when he was here. Obviously he stood out physically and he was the guy at the forefront, but he was a leader and one of the guys. And he sure left his mark here."

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