A tale of two Florida RBs named Henry

Derrick Henry's run to the history books has enthralled the town of Yulee in much the same way as another running back named Henry generated excitement in Frostproof, Fla., 16 years ago. Derek Tyson/ESPN.com

In 1996, former NFL running back Travis Henry was chasing a national single-season record at Frostproof (Fla.) and ripping through the first three rounds of the Class 3A playoffs.

There are some parallels between what Travis Henry did 16 years ago and what Derrick Henry (Yulee, Fla./Yulee) is doing in 2012. While physically they are quite different – Travis Henry was 5-foot-9 and close to 200 pounds while Derrick Henry is roughly 6-3, 248 – they both became larger-than-life figures in small, football-crazy communities.

Frostproof is a community of about 3,000 on the southern edge of Polk County in central Florida. It’s the sort of place where high school football brings everyone together and it seems like a star comes through the area once a decade. Alvin Harper played there in the 80s. USC cornerback Nickell Robey did as well from 2005-2008. The Frostproof Bulldogs have won a couple of football state titles through the years and before the turn of the century they were an automatic lock for the state playoffs.

Travis Henry was different, though. He put a national spotlight on Frostproof as he chased this record held by Ken Hall of Sugar Land, Texas. Most of the time he wasn’t comfortable with the attention placed on the record, his recruitment and his personal life. It was a lot for an 18-year-old to handle. However, there was little doubt of where he was comfortable – the football field – and it was there that his pride for representing Frostproof football shined.

Derrick Henry’s hometown of Yulee is a little bigger with a population of over 11,000, but it’s a little less established in football. The Alabama commit has emerged at a major celebrity in the area just north of Jacksonville. Wherever Henry goes it seems like there’s a pack of fans behind him waiting to cheer his next big run or touchdown.

Much like Travis Henry, Derrick Henry seems a little overwhelmed by the attention, but the coverage of high school football and recruitment has changed so much in 16 years that Derrick Henry has been dealing with the media since he was a freshman. While Derrick Henry might not be comfortable with the attention, he has learned to embrace it like Travis Henry never could.

Both players have eye-popping statistics. Travis Henry finished his senior season with 4,089 yards and 42 touchdowns. Henry has 3,944 yards and 51 touchdowns going into Friday’s playoff game against Jacksonville (Fla.) Bolles.

Travis Henry saved his best performances of his senior year for the playoffs. He rushed for 364 yards and a little more than a half in the 3A quarterfinals against Ransom Everglades. In the state semifinals against Pahokee, he needed all 273 yards and five touchdowns to lift Frostproof to a 45-27 victory. In the 3A championship game against Lake Butler (Fla.) Union County, Travis Henry accounted for 328 rushing yards, 65 receiving yards, four touchdowns and three two-point conversions.

But Union County whipped them 67-30.

The game was pretty much out of reach at halftime and by the third quarter Travis Henry’s chase at the national record looked bleak until Union County quarterback Andrew Zow, who led Alabama to an SEC championship and an Orange Bowl victory in 1999, started throwing deep passes in the second half to run up the score. Finally, on Frostproof’s last possession Travis Henry busted off a 60-yard run that gave him the record – something that he said was no consolation for suffering such a large defeat.

Derrick Henry already has a 400-yard game in the 2012 Class 4A playoffs, his third game this season of 400 yards or more. On Friday he’ll need just 146 yards to pass Travis Henry’s season total and the common thinking is he’ll need another 400-yard game for Yulee to hold off the Bolles machine and advance to the state championship game in Orlando.

Travis Henry chose Tennessee over Alabama, and it was announced when the Frostproof principal told the mayor, who told the local papers. Derrick Henry chose Alabama over Tennessee and Georgia on ESPNU’s "College Football Daily." Travis Henry was part of a BCS championship team in 1998. Derrick Henry will be expected to part of at least one BCS championship team while at Alabama. Travis Henry’s NFL career with the Buffalo Bills and Denver Broncos was productive at times but ultimately overshadowed by mistakes in his personal life. One can only hope Derrick Henry doesn’t fall into the same traps.

However, if you stop in Frostproof and mention Travis Henry’s name, the first thought that comes to the locals’ mind is their memories of the 1996 season. What Derrick Henry has done in 2012 appears to have left the same long-lasting impression to the people of Yulee.

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