Mikey Henderson doesn't occupy the spotlight in the Oklahoma offense by any means. In fact, he doesn't even boast the highest degree of celebrity within his own signing class.
By all accounts, if there's a true freshman taking the world by storm in Norman, Oklahoma, it's Marvin Mims. And with good reason: Mims' seven touchdown catches are most in the FBS among true freshmen, and most on the team by far. No other Sooner has reeled in more than four TD passes.
But while Mims brings the flashiness, Henderson focuses on the finesse. His impact hasn't come through gaudy yardage totals or a throng of touchdowns. In fact, he's only recorded 18 touches on the season.
But with those 18 touches, he's certainly left a resounding impression on his coaches and peers. On seven total carries and 11 receptions, he's accumulated 225 total yards and two touchdowns.
"Mikey is a very, very talented, young player that I think is really progressing and learning a lot," said Riley. "He’s got a skillset that certainly commands some attention. He’s a good blocker and he’s gifted with the ball. So he’s getting better and better. ... He’s an exciting young player. He’s playing a position that’s not an easy position for a young guy."
The position itself is difficult enough, especially with the myriad of ways Lincoln Riley utilizes the H-back in his offensive scheme. But that wasn't the only reason Henderson had the deck stacked against him. In Austin Stogner, Jeremiah Hall and Brayden Willis, the Sooners already had three established playmakers at the H.
Henderson was a distant fourth on the depth chart, and faced long odds to see the field in 2020. But with Willis sidelined for the season opener against Missouri State, the St. Louis native turned four catches into 37 yards.
However, it was Halloween night in Lubbock that provided the occasion for Henderson's coming-out party. He logged a 13-yard reception and carried the ball three times for 22 yards, including a 6-yard scamper for his first collegiate touchdown.
Three weeks later against Oklahoma State, Henderson took it up a notch yet again, recording 81 total yards on six touches. He found the end zone for the second time as a Sooner, this time via a 20-yard reception from Spencer Rattler.
"I’m happy for Mikey," said Rattler after the 41-13 victory. "He works really hard. He studies the playbook, he’s a great player, he’s raw. You get him in, he’s going to take advantage of every opportunity that he has."
"Love that kid, man," Willis chuckled. "From Day 1, you could tell he was special. A lot of talent. Very hard worker."
For an Oklahoma H-back, touches have traditionally come in the form of milquetoast block-and-release routes or play-action flats. Granted, Riley has unleashed Stogner and Willis to a greater degree in the downfield passing game thus far in 2020. But Henderson appears to be breaking the mold in a different way.
He's recorded carries in each of Oklahoma's last three games, which perhaps indicates that Riley sees shades of Dimitri Flowers in his freshman factotum. For what it's worth, Hall's one carry for no gain against Iowa State marks the only other time an H-back has taken a handoff in 2020. Oklahoma hasn't deployed a true fullback since Flowers graduated after the 2017 season, but the evolution of Henderson's usage suggests that he could be gradually shoehorned into Flowers' old role.
"Mikey is a great, great ballcarrier," said Hall. "He runs hard. He's fast. He sees gaps well, and whenever he gets a carry, I know we're all looking forward to it."
As the 2020 season winds to a close, Henderson is scratching the surface of his potential much earlier than most would have anticipated. Though he's only seen sporadic action, he's capitalized on every chance to impress.
The Sooner faithful have taken notice. Henderson's teammates have taken notice. And perhaps most importantly, his head coach has taken notice.
"Some of the reps that he’s been able to get, developing more and more, developing more trust from his teammates and his coaches, that’s provided some more opportunities," said Riley. "And he’s a talented, explosive player that’s got a really fun skill set.
"So the more trust he can build, the more opportunities he’s gonna get."
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