You’re not the only one who experienced football flashbacks when Mikey Henderson got onto the field for Oklahoma in 2020.
From his frame to his full-speed style of play to his Texas roots, right down to his jersey number, Henderson as a true freshman looked and played a lot like former Sooner Josh Norman.
“I’ve heard the name before,” Henderson said, “but I’m not completely sure who that is.”
So what if it’s been 20 years? Even Josh Norman thinks he sees a little of himself in the way Henderson plays — although, he admits, at first he didn’t.
“The funny thing is, I did not,” Norman told SI Sooners in a phone interview Thursday. “And then I had numerous people hit me up on Twitter, or via text, and they were like, ‘Man, that dude is like a reincarnation of you.’ And I was like, ‘What?’ So at first, I jokingly said, ‘Nah, he ain’t like me.’ But then, the more I watched him, I was like, ‘Dang, he really is, man.’ So no, that’s really cool.”
When Norman was a versatile, talented thumper on Bob Stoops’ 2000 national championship team, he was listed at 6-foot-2 and 228 pounds. Henderson is currently listed at 6-2, 223.
They both lined up all over the field, Norman first as a running back and then a tight end, Henderson first a tight end (or H-back) and now as a running back.
They both excelled at initiating contact and breaking tackles by standing on the gas, and pity the opponent.
And they both are proud wearers of No. 3.
It’s a comparison so precise, so similar, it’s almost eerie.
Henderson said when he was being recruited by Lincoln Riley, he knew he’d be adding to the offense with his versatility.
“Linc already told me from the jump, ‘You’re not limited to one position. We’re moving you around everywhere. You’ve got a skill set that not a lot of people have,’ ” Henderson said Thursday during a video press conference. “So he told me from the jump they were gonna do a lot of different things. I didn’t know they were going to move me to running back permanently, but I knew I was going to be getting carries. He told me he was going to do a lot of different things with me. I kinda had this envisioned what I’m doing now, doing a whole lot of different stuff. I knew this was going to happen.”
Part of the H-back room last season, Henderson ran the football nine times for 81 yards and a touchdown, and caught 12 passes for 168 yards and a TD. He also threw a handful of key blocks to spring teammates — all at full speed.
Riley liked what he saw when Henderson had the football in his hands, so he told him at his exit meeting after the Cotton Bowl what he had in mind.
“Right after the Florida game,” Henderson said, “he was thinking about moving me to running back full time, just to do a lot of different things with me to create a lot of different matchups in the slot, do a lot of stuff.”
“He's a natural runner,” said running backs coach DeMarco Murray. “… I want a guy who can run the rock as a runner, that's your job. But I want a guy that you can put out in slot, put outside to create matchups with linebackers and safeties that creates a lot of mismatches so Mikey's done a great job thus far.”
“He's picked up on everything really well,” said quarterback Spencer Rattler. “He's a big dude. He can run. Take him out the backfield, get the ball in his hands in space. That's how we've been utilizing him. He could do it all. He's another guy I'm really excited to see grow during the season. He's one of the guys I wanna see really pop off here during this next season.”
Like Josh Norman 20 years before, Henderson was agreeable to doing whatever the coaches wanted.
“I was recruited by John Blake and they recruited me as a running back,” Norman said. “I was a tailback. That’s what they recruited me as, and that’s what I played since I first played peewee football. I was a running back through peewee, junior high and high school, and that’s what I was recruited at. And that’s what I expected to play and I always wanted to go to the NFL and play.
“And then when coach Stoops came in, they moved me to a lot of different areas.”
Norman, who turns 41 in July, came to OU from Robert E. Lee High School in Midland, TX, having rushed for 3,872 yards and 51 touchdowns during his prep career. At 6-3, 220, he was accorded postseason honors from First Down Recruiting News — as a fullback. Prepstar ranked him as the eighth-best running back in the Big 12 region.
Norman thought he’d be a running back at OU, but after he redshirted in 1998, Stoops and his staff saw something else in him. In 1999, he ran seven times for 18 yards and caught 16 passes for 180 yards. In 2000, he ran six times for 30 yards and caught 34 passes for 518 yards. And in 2001, he ran four times for six yards and caught 45 passes for 405 yards.
His transition from running back to tight end was complete.
Norman finished his three-year career with 95 catches for 1,103 yards and 17 rushes for 54 yards while scoring nine total touchdowns — and throwing countless blocks to spring his teammates in both the run game and the passing game.
Norman said he was recently reminiscing with an old teammate about his constant movement.
“It was literally, one week I’d be in the meeting room with coach (Cale) Gundy as a running back or fullback, the next week I’d be in the room with coach (Jonathan) Hayes as a tight end, the next week I’d be in the room with coach (Steve) Spurrier as a receiver,” Norman said. “And literally every week, it was like flipping a coin. ‘Which room am I gonna be in this weekend?’
“It was never a discussion, like, ‘We’re gonna be intentional about moving you to different places.’ It was just a matter of putting me in a position where I was needed.”
Norman said injuries to other players necessitated much of his traveling between meeting rooms. It really got going in Week 3 of the 1999 season.
“I remember the first game I started at tight end, it was against Louisville because we were thin on tight ends,” Norman said. “Trent Smith had gotten hurt and Matt Anderson had gotten hurt. So I was a tight end.”
It worked out pretty well. Norman left for the NFL after the 2001 season but went undrafted. He eventually landed a free agent deal with the San Diego Chargers, where he played the 2002 and 2003 seasons and finished his NFL career with 22 catches for 273 yards and two touchdowns. He was in training camp with the Chargers in 2004 and the Raiders in 2005, but then decided to start his coaching career.
Today, Norman is head coach at Southmoore High School — all of 10 miles from his old patch of grass at OU.
And that’s where learning all those positions as a player has really helped him the most, Norman said.
“I’ve been an offensive coordinator my entire career, I’m a head football coach now, and I feel like that experienced has helped me more,” he said. “Because as an offensive coordinator, I can coach any position. Because I literally played every position on the field, with the exception of quarterback. Even, you look at tight end, I had to learn a lot of the techniques that offensive linemen have to learn. So it’s definitely helped me as a coach to be able to play all those different positions.”
Henderson said he’s all about playing any position he’s asked to. He played some quarterback at Ranchview High School near the Dallas Cowboys' old training headquarters at Valley Ranch, but his recruiting profile labeled him an “athlete.”
“It definitely helped me a little bit playing quarterback at the high school level,” he said. “Just because I kinda know defenses and what they’re trying to do. It definitely helped me see the field and give me a different feel for the game, for sure.”
Maybe someday Riley will even devise some kind of wildcat-type package for Henderson to show his quarterback skills. That’d be OK with Henderson, too.
“I’m one of those guys that, I want to do whatever,” Henderson said. “I want to show coaches that I can do the whole thing. I can line up here, I can line up there. I don’t want to ever limit myself to just one position. I like to do a whole lot of different things.”