Derrick Henry's off-season preparation to finally be Alabama's featured running back this season was well documented on his Instagram page. Henry posted video of him pushing a Ford F-150 pickup truck around a track under the scorching Florida sun. In another, he flipped a monster truck tire while wearing a 65-pound weighted vest.
Henry also shared a photo of himself working out alone in a weight room at 4:08 a.m. But as impressive as all of his efforts were, his biggest improvement isn't the result of a physical feat that went viral on social media.
His willingness to become a vocal leader for the 13th-ranked Crimson Tide—who play at No. 8 Georgia on Saturday—has been a new wrinkle in Henry's game this season. He says that he found the confidence to speak up by giving classroom speeches in his pursuit of a communications degree.
“My approach has been to be the leader of the team," Henry tells The Inside Read. “I'm trying to be a good example for the guys and for me to motivate them."
The hulking 6' 3", 244-pound junior was already inspiring his teammates with his impressive work ethic. With former running back T.J. Yeldon gone to the NFL, Henry knew it would be up to him this season to lead Alabama's ground attack. He had just two career starts entering the season, but he had flashed plenty of glimpses of his potential. Last season, he rushed for 990 yards and 11 touchdowns on just 172 carries.
He burst onto the college football scene in his final game as a freshman with his jaw-dropping 161 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns during a 45-31 loss to Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl. It had been a long wait behind Yeldon for Henry, who set the national career high school rushing record while at Yulee (Fla.) High (12,124 yards).
“It's been a really humbling experience," Henry says. “You just have to be patient to get your chance. I've really learned a lot and had a lot of experiences in the last two years to get me to this moment."
In advance of this season, Henry made sure he would be ready physically and mentally in his quest to become a complete running back. He worked out two to three times a day while doing countless push-ups and sit-ups between sessions. His unorthodox training methods were meant to help with his explosiveness. He also added six pounds of muscle in anticipation of an increased workload.
“I've been trying to play the game a lot faster," Henry says.
Henry is off to a fantastic start this fall, with 422 rushing yards and eight touchdowns on 67 carries. “I like getting better," Henry says with a laugh.
His relentless drive is why Henry also watches NFL highlights on YouTube to try to learn from running backs like Marshawn Lynch and Adrian Peterson. Not surprisingly, the clips often have the effect of inspiring Henry to squeeze in yet another workout. “It gets you going," Henry says of watching the videos. “Makes you want to do something."
Prior to this season, Henry had been more of a lead-by-example type of player. But since the Crimson Tide's 43–37 home loss to Mississippi two weeks ago, his newfound voice has been needed in the locker room. “We got to put the team first and don't worry about no other distractions," Henry says. “We've got to get back to playing Bama football. We've got to earn our respect from everybody around the country."
Henry is proud of having learned to become a better speaker from the speeches he has given in his communications classes. One of his monologues, on his opinion that college athletes should be paid, earned him one of his highest grades (his GPA last semester was above 3.0).
Henry says that public speaking is a greater challenge than anything he's ever faced on the field. “Now, that's nerve-racking," he says.
But not anymore—at least when Henry needs to speak to his teammates. He also feels like he's finally settled in on the field. “I'm a lot more comfortable," he says.
A complete back who fires up his teammates with his play and his leadership ... now that's an image that should go viral.
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With Kiel out, Cincinnati QB Hayden Moore ready to step up
When Gunner Kiel spurned LSU at the last minute and decided to attend Notre Dame nearly four years ago, Tigers coach Les Miles famously questioned the “chest" of the nation's top-ranked high school quarterback. Since transferring to Cincinnati in 2013, Kiel has been dogged by a succession of injuries. Last season, he battled rib and back ailments and even endured a busted eardrum.
Nevertheless, Kiel hadn't missed a start in 17 games for the Bearcats. But that streak that will end on Thursday night when Cincinnati hosts Miami. Kiel suffered a neck injury on a frightening hit to the head in the Bearcats' wild 53–46 loss at Memphis last Thursday. That was a week after he departed early from Cincinnati's 37–33 win at Miami (Ohio) after he took a hit that resulted in his head hitting hard on the turf.
“It's bad luck," says Bearcats passing game coordinator and quarterbacks coach Darin Hinshaw tells The Inside Read. “I've been coaching for a long time and I haven't had that many injuries on one guy that are all very different. They're all legitimate injuries that are just weird and unlucky."
With Kiel out, redshirt freshman Hayden Moore will have a chance to once again captivate a national television audience, this time in his first collegiate start. Moore came off the bench a week ago in relief of Kiel and completed 31 of 53 passes for a school-record 557 yards and four touchdowns. He also threw two interceptions. The last, which came with less than a minute left in the game, ended a potential game-winning drive on the Tigers' 19-yard line.
“It's frustrating because he really performed and did a good job," Hinshaw says. “Now, we've got to keep him going."
The 6' 3", 203-pound Moore played much better against Memphis than when he replaced Kiel against the Redhawks on Sept. 19 and led Cincinnati to a comeback victory. In that game, Moore orchestrated a game-winning 66-yard drive that he capped with a one-yard touchdown run. “That gave him a lot of confidence," Hinshaw says.
It also prepared Moore to take over for Kiel against the Tigers. In that game, the Bearcats racked up 752 yards of offense, a school record; they now rank third in the FBS in total offense, averaging 622 yards per game.
“When you get a quarterback in a groove like that, it can be a lot of fun," Hinshaw says.
Moore, a product of Clay, Ala., was discovered by former Cincinnati special teams coordinator and tight ends coach Tyson Helton, who is now Western Kentucky's offensive coordinator. At the time only a few FBS schools had shown interest in Moore, but Hinshaw was impressed by Moore's quick throwing motion and his accuracy on deep passes.
Moore showed that accuracy against the Tigers by completing several passes on post patterns to receivers who were being covered by two defenders. “[That's what] you want in an NFL quarterback," Hinshaw says. “He puts it right where it's supposed to be."
But the Bearcats didn't offer Moore a scholarship right away—even after he impressed at one of their football camps the summer before his senior year of high school. Cincinnati made him an offer only after losing out on some other quarterback recruits. Moore nevertheless committed the day after receiving the offer.
“He loves the Lord and is a great human being," Hinshaw says. “Everybody knows that about him. He's very confident in what he can do on the field, but he does not talk about it. He's a 'What can I do for you?' type of guy. Everybody wraps around that. He's very humble. That's the kind of quarterback you want leading your team."
Although Bearcats coach Tommy Tuberville has said that Kiel will be the starter once he gets cleared to play, a timeline for his return is uncertain. As Hinshaw watched film Sunday in preparation for the game against the Hurricanes, he praised Kiel's toughness.
“Knowing Gunner," Hinshaw said, “he's going to be fighting and clawing to get back on the field."
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Texas State coach Dennis Franchione promotes his son to defensive coordinator
When Dennis Franchione became Texas State's coach nearly five years ago, his son, Brad, wanted to be his defensive coordinator.
That's been a dream for the younger Franchione, a possibility his father strongly considered before he ultimately hired his son as the Bobcats' linebackers coach and special teams coordinator.
“When I'm the head coach and he's the DC, and if things aren't going well, it's a double-barreled whammy," the elder Franchione tells The Inside Read. “I didn't know how much we were going to struggle in the beginning. I didn't want to put him in an impossible situation at that time."
But Brad now finally has his wish after becoming Texas State's interim defensive coordinator earlier this week. He succeeds veteran coordinator John Thompson, who resigned on the heels of the Bobcats' tough 1–3 start. Their scoring defense is the worst in FBS (49.5 points per game).
“There are some things I thought we needed to change and I knew that Brad and I would be on the same page," Dennis says.
Brad was head coach at Texas's Blinn College from 2005 to '09, leading the Buccaneers to a 54–13 record and two junior college national championships, the last of which was won with Cam Newton playing quarterback.
According to Dennis, Brad will make some changes to Texas State's defensive scheme in terms of fronts and coverages. There will also be a greater emphasis on tackling, alignments and assignments.
Philosophically, Brad wants more energy and less excuses from his unit.
“I really believe we're better on defense than we've played," Dennis says. “For whatever reason, we haven't showed it. Our players' belief system is still good, and certainly Brad's presence has helped."
The Bobcats are off this week before playing at Louisiana-Lafayette on Oct. 10, after which they have another off week. The elder Franchione has a 37–37 record in five seasons at Texas State, including a 7–5 mark last season.
The former TCU, Alabama and Texas A&M head coach is confident that his son can still help salvage the Bobcats' season defensively.
“The good thing about it," says Franchione with a laugh, “is it can't be worse."
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