Sweet returns for Derrick Henry

Yulee (Fla.) athlete Derrick Henry will have an advantage over most of the prospects headed to The Opening next week. He's been there before.

Henry was one of three underclassmen invited to the inaugural event in 2011, along with five-star offensive lineman Laremy Tunsil (Lake City, Fla./Columbia) and four-star running back Altee Tenpenny (Little Rock, Ark./North Little Rock).

"It was a real honor to be one of the few underclassmen invited to The Opening last year," Henry said. "I learned a lot watching the top seniors and seeing how they worked and competed. After the event I knew some parts of my game I needed to work on, like catching the ball out of the backfield."

However, Henry quickly showed he was up for the task, finishing in the top 10 of the SPARQ skills competition. He's hoping for an even better result this year.

"I would like to win the overall SPARQ competition this season," Henry said. "Not calling my shot or anything but that's just a goal I hope to achieve. It's going to be nice to focus on competition for a few days."

And then it's back to focusing on recruiting for the 49th-ranked player in the nation.

The 6-foot-3, 240-pound junior committed to Georgia shortly after last year's event, but almost a year later Henry has decided to back off that commitment and open up his recruitment again. While he admits his decision has added a little more stress to his offseason, he is happy that he made the decision.

"I probably made my decision a little too soon," Henry said. "I really liked Georgia and I still do but I have one chance to get this right and I need to make sure that I get every question answered and do all the research necessary."

Shortly after Henry's decommitment the rumors began swirling. Was he going to flip from Georgia to Alabama? And if he does flip to the Crimson Tide did he agree to change positions?

Henry laughs at it all while placing an emphasis on his position of choice -- running back.

"I've never had a conversation with a coach about playing anything other than running back," Henry said. "It's funny to hear all these people talking when they really don't have any idea what's going on. It's funny but it also gets frustrating because there's never been a question about my position at all."

Henry makes his case for running back by pointing to his production. In three seasons with Yulee he has rushed for nearly 8,000 yards and more than 100 touchdowns. Henry understands that his size makes people think twice about keeping him at the position but there have been successful 'big' backs before.

"I like to compare my style to Steven Jackson from the Rams," Henry said. "He wasn't a running back with traditional size. He's almost 6-2 and 245 pounds. I think people believe all running backs should be 5-9 or 5-10 and 200 pounds but that's not always the case. People want to change what I do because I don't fit what they are used to seeing."

Yulee head coach Bobby Ramsay said that he understands why Henry is frustrated with the questions about his position, but that he uses the comments as motivation.

"People look at his measurables and they see a tight end or a defensive player and I think it's a compliment because he's such a talented athlete," Ramsay said. "But that's not what he is and I think it bothers him a little but he continues to do what we ask of him and it works out. He has established that he can carry the football and there's plenty of film out there of him doing it.

"There's always a school of thought when it comes to the measurables. Some people didn't think Cameron Newton could play quarterback in the NFL until they saw him play quarterback in the NFL. People might have thought Magic Johnson was too tall to play point guard but that worked out pretty well for the Lakers."

Ramsay admitted he was concerned when Henry first committed to Georgia because he was so young, but he also understood that Henry had been dealing with questions about his recruitment since he was a freshman.

"Derrick had been asked the questions for so many months that it probably sped up the process quite a bit," Ramsay said.

Along with Georgia and Alabama, Henry also likes Tennessee, USC and a few other programs. And now that the process is starting over again Henry said he will lean on his coaches more this time around.

"Sometimes it's easy to get caught up in talking with the coaches or checking out the facilities so I have my coaches there to make sure the right questions are being asked," Henry added. "They want me to look at the big picture."

Ramsay agrees.

"Every school has a nice weight room and a stadium and other stuff so we try to go beyond the stadium he's going to play in and the uniform," Ramsay said. "I want him to understand that this is a multiyear commitment so forget about what things are going to be like as a freshman but think about what they will be like in the third and fourth year at the school."

Even though Henry wants to focus on playing his senior year, he and Ramsay both understand that the longer his recruitment goes the more the focus will shift.

"It's going to be hard to say what's going to happen in the fall because our plan is for him to graduate in December and enroll in January," Ramsay said. "So if he's practicing, playing a game and then going on a visit that weekend, that's a pretty tough grind. It could be a situation where he just takes a few visits and decided that's enough.

"But the questions are going to continue and we understand that. Most of the top guys have committed as well so there are less guys to follow this fall. Either way the goal is to make sure that Derrick is 100 percent certain about where he wants to go."

If Henry doesn't make a decision by the last week of August, he still promises to go into football mode. He speaks with excitement when he talks about his final year with his teammates at Yulee and the hopes of winning a championship.

For the second year in a row Yulee will play on national television and while Henry gets the credit for the games he says it's his teammates that helped put Yulee on the map.

"The games are so much fun and we're in this together as a team," Henry said. "The quarterback, the offensive line, the defense, the coaches, there are a lot of reasons why Yulee football has been successful.

"And the people here are so supportive of us. They are good fans and friends to play in front of. It's my goal to help bring a state championship to Yulee."