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Football: Alabama commitment erases a few more doubters at U.S. Army All-American Bowl

Yulee High running back Derrick Henry, who set the national career yardage mark, scores in the first half of the East’s victory.

Associated Press

Yulee High running back Derrick Henry, who set the national career yardage mark, scores in the first half of the East’s victory.

SAN ANTONIO, Texas — It had been a while since Derrick Henry entered a game without the burden of carrying a team on his broad shoulders.

Henry came to the U.S. Army All-American Bowl with modest expectations, a mere role player on a team full of high school all-stars with their own impressive resumes and reputations.

But once the game was under way Saturday, yet another team counted on the Yulee High star to make a difference.

Henry, who broke a 59-year-old national career rushing record this fall, rushed for a game-high 53 yards, a touchdown and two-point conversion to lift the East to a 15-8 victory over the West at the Alamodome.

Even amongst some of the nation's best players, the 6-foot-3, 243-pound runner was a standout.

"There's never been anyone like Derrick Henry," said Bill Kramer, the Naples High coach who worked with the East running backs this week. "The physiology of it is overwhelming with that guy."

For sure, no running back has ever had a more productive high school career: Henry finished with 12,124 rushing yards, shattering the mark of 11,232 yards set by Ken Hall of Sugar Land, Texas, from 1950-53.

In his record-breaking senior year at Yulee, Henry rushed for 4,261 yards and 55 touchdowns on 462 carries (an average of 36 carries per game). He had no fewer than 15 carries in any game and was never held to fewer than 189 rushing yards.

Despite those accomplishments, Henry came into Saturday third on the East's unofficial depth chart behind Derrick Green of Richmond, Va., and Greg Bryant of Delray Beach.

Earlier in the week, Henry said he enjoyed the competition and fellowship among the backs.

"It's good preparation for college," said Henry, who has orally committed to Alabama. "It's been a lot of fun, trading tips and working together. But of course, it's always going to be competitive."

He didn't need long to make an impact, rushing for 10 yards on his first carry. Later in the first quarter, Henry plowed over a couple of defenders for a 2-yard score.

On the final drive of the first half, Henry had four straight carries for 21 yards, another run for 4 and a 1-yarder to set up a 21-yard field goal attempt that was blocked by the West as time expired.

Henry's final touch of the game came on a two-point conversion late in the fourth quarter. He took the handoff and simply outran everyone to the corner of the end zone, a surprise for someone already built like a college linebacker.

"He's a freak athlete," said East offensive lineman Brendan Mahon of Randolph, N.J. "I've never seen anyone that big run that fast."

Henry led all runners in the game with 10 carries, still only a fourth of his normal workload.

After the game, Henry said he wanted to prove that he could play running back in college; some recruiting analysts have suggested he has more of a future on defense.

"I wanted to come out here and run the ball effectively," he said. "I wanted to show them bad because I have a lot of doubters."

There weren't any doubters to be found in the Alamodome, from coaches to teammates to opponents.

"Back in Shreveport, they're not that big," said West defensive back Tre'Davious White, an LSU commitment. "They're as fast as him but they're not that big."

Next fall in Tuscaloosa, Henry will join a talented, and crowded, backfield that could include two 1,000-yard rushers in Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon and a raft of former four- and five-star recruits.

Kramer, who has coached his share of standout runners, said he expects Henry to excel at the next level and possibly beyond.

"If he stays healthy," Kramer said, "he's going to be in the NFL."

Other standouts

1. Derrick Green, RB, East: The 6-foot, 220-pound runner from Richmond, Va., actually was the East starter over Henry and one of the team's four captains. He finished with 49 yards on eight carries, including a 23-yard run. Green, who remains uncommitted, impressed observers throughout the week of practice with his explosiveness, strength and ability to grasp the offense. "He carries himself like a professional," Kramer said.

2. Al-Quadin Muhammad, DL, East: A 6-4, 225-pound rush end from New Jersey, Muhammad surprised lots of analysts by announcing his commitment to Miami during the game. He also had a game-high 1 1/2 sacks, building on a strong effort during the week.

3. James Quick, WR, East: Quick caught the winning touchdown, a 34-yarder between two defenders with 2:50 left in the fourth. The Louisville, Ky., native finished with three catches for a game-high 71 yards and announced his commitment to his hometown Cardinals.

4. Tre'Davious White, DB, West: The Shreveport, La., product will be yet another in a long line of speedy and tough defensive backs at LSU. On Saturday, however, he returned two kickoffs for 52 yards, including an electric 33-yarder, and had a single rush for 8 yards.

SEMINOLES NEWS: In an expected but still disappointing development for Florida State, former commitment Tony Stevens announced that he plans to sign with Texas A&M.

Stevens, a 6-3, 175-pound receiver from Orlando Evans, said College Station reminded him a lot of Tallahassee. The difference, he said, was in the league.

"A&M is in the SEC," he said.

On a brighter note for Seminoles fans, E.J. Levenberry of Woodbridge, Va., was selected as one of the four East captains before the game. A 6-foot-3, 234-pound linebacker, Levenberry said he was honored that the coaches took notice of his preparation and approach to the game.

"It means a lot," he said. "It's a blessing to be out here."

Joel Anderson can be reached at janderson@tampabay.com or Twitter @jdhometeam.

Football: Alabama commitment erases a few more doubters at U.S. Army All-American Bowl 01/05/13 [Last modified: Saturday, January 5, 2013 8:50pm]

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