The two leading rushers in the history of Florida high school football met Friday when Kelvin Taylor and Glades Day visited Yulee’s Derrick Henry. Taylor is the son of Florida legend Fred Taylor and a Gator commit himself. Henry made a verbal commitment to Alabama the afternoon of the game which was televised nationally by ESPNU. Will Muschamp, Tim Tebow’s dad, Fred Taylor, Jaguars top draft choice Justin Blackmon and a flock of the top recruiting analysts in the nation were on hand to watch the showdown.
The result was a blowout – both the team and individual matchup.
Taylor may be ESPN’s top ranked running back in the 2013 class, but it was Henry and his Hornets who dominated the match-up. Henry rushed 35 times for 362 yards and six – yes six: one, two, three, four, five, six – touchdowns leading his team to a 42-6 victory. Taylor had a fine night with 223 yards and a touchdown on 35 carries and his output and performance seemed puny by comparison.
Derrick Henry is a better running back than Kelvin Taylor. At least in high school he is.
Friday’s duel may have stacked the deck in Henry’s favor as his 4A teammates clearly wore out Taylor’s 2A side and by the second half Henry was virtually running through air whenever he broke the line of scrimmage. That said, to me, Taylor looked like a great back – fast, physical, burst, quickness, runs well, balance – a great back the sort of which you find a handful of nationally in every recruiting class. Henry looked unique. Henry appeared once in a decade special.
At a legitimate 6-foot-3, 240+lbs and 19-years-old, Henry is truly a man among boys. Watching him play against high school competition is silly. It’s absurd to watch him break wide and be met by a 17-year-old, 5-foot-8, 160lb defensive back whose responsibility it is to keep Henry from turning the corner and streaking down the sideline. The galactic gulf in athletic ability between the Henrys and Taylors and their competition at the prep level makes scouting and ranking high school talent exceedingly speculative, unscientific, prejudicial and nearly a fool’s errand.
I’d never seen Henry (or Taylor) play before Friday night. What I had heard was that Henry may not project to running back in college due to his size, upright running style, and lack of foot quickness or “lateral agility” according to ESPN recruiting analyst Tom Luginbill. Luginbill was a guest on 1010XL radio in Jacksonville the day of the game and CLEARLY does not think Henry will, or should, play running back in college. Henry was on the same station the day before the game and became noticeably animated when asked about the conversation and debate surrounding which position he’ll play at the next level.
Henry looked – and played – like a running back to me. His second touchdown was run directly in front of me and I saw with my own eyes what his doubters questioned. I saw his nimble feet. I saw him evade penetration in the backfield with fleet footwork. I saw him “create” in the hole. As for his upright running style, he appeared to hit the hole with low pad level to me. Remember, he’s six-three, when he breaks the line and straightens up, he’s going to look awkward. One concern about Henry I did have after watching a brief highlight video of him was his choppy, short-striding running style. Against Glades Day Henry’s stride was long and fluid.
Observing Henry in person I am shocked by his doubters. Lack of “lateral agility?” I can make Derrick Henry’s feet quicker with a chain ladder and 10 minutes of footwork drills three days a week. “Upright running style?” Eddie George, a Heisman winner, was an upright runner and pad level is a common issue elite high school athletes who’ve always been able to rely on physical gifts vs. inferior competition need to address in college be that running backs or linemen. On the game broadcast Luginbill acknowledged Henry’s noticeably better pad level and a previously unseen nimbleness of foot against Glades Day.
Neither Derrick Henry, nor Kelvin Taylor, are finished products. Quickness and running style can be coached and improved. What can’t be coached or taught or improved is bone structure and frame and Henry’s got that and no one else has what he has. Six-foot-three has to be recruited, it can’t be coached. I was able to spend time with Henry in the 1010XL studios and what caught my eye is that despite his grown-man frame, he’s not especially muscular. He’s naturally strong and powerful, but he isn’t “jacked” in a weight room sense. He can still “fill out.” Give Alabama’s exceptional strength coach Scott Cochran and player development and nutrition program a few months, and years, to work with him and I think Henry can become a streamlined, rock-hard, quick-footed, blazing fast 260lb terror of a running back.
Legitimacy and authority in college football recruiting has come light years as the process has become a true profession over the past 20 years. Competition between Rivals, Scout, ESPN and 24/7 have forced those companies to spend more money, hire better people and become more accurate and accountable in their rankings. The profusion of elite-level camps has allowed top players from different areas and classifications to square off against each other in apples-to-apples competition. Despite that, in recruiting, who your dad is matters. Your high school’s pedigree matters. The recruiting rankings are wrong, Henry is the better back.
Kelvin Taylor is great. Derrick Henry is historic. I know Derrick Henry doesn’t look like a running back. I also know from first-hand experience he plays like one. If 100 people observed Derrick Henry and Kelvin Taylor play on the same field at the same time as I did 99 of them (myself included), if asked to choose up sides, would pick Henry first.
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