NEW YORK — Hand it to Derrick Henry.
Alabama’s bulldozer of a tailback with the super-sized workload won the Heisman Trophy on Saturday night after carrying the Crimson Tide offense for most of the season.
“I’m just so thankful to have this trophy,” Henry said. “It’s just a blessing and an honor.”
The 6-foot-3, 242-pound Henry is the second Alabama player to win the Heisman, joining running back Mark Ingram. Since Ingram won the award in 2009, it had gone to five straight quarterbacks.
Stanford’s do-it-all running back Christian McCaffrey, who broke the NCAA record for all-purpose yards in a season, was the runner-up, making it four second-place finishes for Cardinal players in seven years.
Deshaun Watson, quarterback of No. 1 Clemson, finished third.
Henry was considered the favorite going in, though it didn’t make it any easier for him.
“I didn’t know at all,” he said. “Them two guys were great contenders for the trophy. Deshaun, with how consistent and efficient he is at the quarterback position, all the success he had, I was kind of worried. Christian, breaking Barry Sanders’ record, doing all the things he does, he’s just unbelievable.”
The moment right before the winner was announced was the toughest for Henry.
“My heart was about to bust out my chest. I thought I was going to have a heart attack,” he said.
It was the closest Heisman voting 2011, when Baylor’s Robert Griffin beat out Stanford’s Andrew Luck by 280 points, but still a comfortable victory for Henry. He received 1,832 points, 293 more than McCaffrey (1,539). Watson received the third-most points for a third-place finisher with 1,165.
Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield came in fourth and Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds was fifth, but Henry, McCaffrey and Watson dominated the voting.
Henry broke the Southeastern Conference record with 1,986 yards rushing – previously held by 1982 Heisman winner Herschel Walker – and matched a league mark with 23 touchdowns, leading No. 2 Alabama to the College Football Playoff. He also set an Alabama record with 339 carries, including an astounding 90 in the Tide’s last two games.
“I know that our entire organization is really happy, happy, happy for Derrick Henry tonight, winning the Heisman Trophy,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said.
Henry choked up during his speech, thanking family, coaches and teammates, and mentioning former Alabama teammate Altee Tenpenny, who was killed in a car crash two months ago.
Henry was born to teenage parents and raised with the strong influence of his grandmother, Gladys, in the small north Florida country town of Yulee, just outside of Jacksonville.
Gladys Henry has been hospitalized for weeks in Florida with heart and respiratory problems. Derrick Henry said his grandmother was with him in spirit as his childhood dream of winning the Heisman came true.
“I love you so much,” he said during his speech.
Henry came to Alabama as a five-star recruit. Before the Heisman came a dose of humility. For the first time football wasn’t easy.
“One day I said something to him and he said, ‘Coach, all this stuff is new to me. All they did in high school was turn around and toss me the ball and I ran with it,'” Saban said. “I really appreciate his hard work at becoming a complete player.”
Henry was a backup on a crowded depth chart as a freshman and thought about transferring, but with the encouragement of his family decided to stay put.
As a sophomore he shared carries with T.J. Yeldon and ran for 990 yards and 11 touchdowns.
This season as a junior, with Alabama breaking in a first-time starting quarterback and inexperienced receivers, the Tide hooked its offense to Henry and let him lead the way. When injuries hit Alabama’s other running backs, Henry picked up that slack, too.
He had four 200-yard games in the second half of the season. He went for 210 against LSU to move to the front of the Heisman race, and had 271 yards in the Iron Bowl against Auburn.
Weary defenses got plenty of looks at big No. 2 from behind, his long bundled locks sticking out of the back of his helmet. The Crimson Tide’s Predator.
After Ingram won the Heisman in ’09, he helped Alabama win the national championship about a month later. Henry will try to do the same. The Tide faces Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl on Dec. 31, trying to earn a fourth national championship in nine seasons under Saban.
Henry has not announced his intentions yet, but a jump to the NFL seems likely after this season.
Alabama has placed its championship hopes on Henry’s broad shoulders and he has delivered.
“Roll Tide,” Henry said as he wrapped up his speech.