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January 5, 2013

Something to prove, and Henry does


MORE: U.S. Army All-American Bowl

SAN ANTONIO -- Derrick Henry rushed for more than 12,000 yards and 150 touchdowns in his high school career, but at 6-foot-3 and 243 pounds he has faced doubts about whether he can stay at running back in college.

After his East team MVP performance in Saturday's U.S. Army All-American Bowl, those questions should taper off for at least a few weeks.

In front of a record Alamodome crowd of 40,133 and a national television audience, Henry had a goal of proving his ability at the running back position. He made a statement by taking home East team MVP honors in leading his squad to a 15-8 victory.

"I wanted to show it bad because I have a lot of doubters," Henry said. "I work real hard and I am always grinding every day trying to get better and I wanted to show it out here."

A product of Yulee, Fla., Henry led all rushers with 53 yards on 10 carries. He scored the first touchdown of the game on a two-yard plunge and added a two-point conversion rush late in the final quarter.

Not only were the stats there Saturday, but Henry also answered questions about his running style by making several sharp cuts to find open field and showing speed on the outside. The big back used his size to run through arm tackles and push the pile, while also being an effective lead blocker.

"He is a little more sudden than I expected and faster around the corner," Rivals.com national analyst Mike Farrell observed after Saturday's Army Bowl. "His body lean is very good, he finds holes in spite of how big he is and he has good vision."

The two scoring plays credited to Henry showed the big back's inside and outside abilities. He finished off a first quarter touchdown drive by plunging into the middle of a pile and pushing the collection of linemen into the end zone.

In the fourth quarter, with his team up five points, Henry took a zone read handoff and out-sprinted the entire West defense to the far pylon.

Henry's first carry of the afternoon foreshadowed his big day. Led by left guard Khaliel Rodgers, the East offensive line blew open a big hole early on its second drive of the game. Henry made a slight adjustment to find the hole and rolled 10 yards inside the West 40-yard line.

Fellow East running backs Derrick Green and Greg Bryant also contributed double-digit-yard gains on the drive before Henry capped it off with his two-yard plunge.

The majority of Henry's yards came on the final drive of the second quarter with his team up a touchdown and driving in West territory. Henry had six carries and accounted for 26 of his team's 30 yards on the drive. His effort set up the East inside the five-yard line, but the ensuing 21-yard field goal attempt was blocked.

"There is a high level of competition out here with guys among the top in the nation going to D1 colleges," Henry said. "I showed I can come out here, run the ball and be effective just like any running back can."

Henry is headed to play for Alabama and head coach Nick Saban next year. He will start classes at the University on Monday -- the same day the Crimson Tide play Notre Dame in the national title game -- and has already been assured he will be utilized as a running back. After Saturday's performance, the four-star back should have plenty of confidence playing that position in college.



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