From die-hard Gator fan to Bulldog commit?

At the Nike Football Training Camp in Tallahassee on April 17, it was clear that Derrick Henry (163) towered over all the other running back prospects. (Jeff Barlis/Staff photographer)

No other piece of recruiting news has surprised more writers in the South in recent months than the sudden verbal commitment of 2013 running back Derrick Henry, who is one of the most tantalizing athletes in the nation regardless of age, size or position.

He’s also a Gator fan.

And he’s also a Georgia Bulldogs verbal commitment.

Wait, what?

Henry, a 6-foot-3, 232-pound monster from Yulee, Fla., announced his pledge at Georgia’s one-night showcase called Dawg Night on July 15. It was a big night for recruiting news, as UGA picked up five verbals.

According to the Georgia media, it all started with Jacksonville, Fla., Bolles offensive tackle John Theus, thought by many to be the top prospect in the state this year. Theus’ brother Nathan is a freshman long-snapper at Georgia, which led most observers to deduce that his brother would follow him to Athens. John Theus flirted with Florida, indicating the Gators had a chance. But as expected, UF was just a close second at best.

The story of Dawg Night goes like this: Theus met with Camden County, Ga., quarterback Brice Ramsey, one of the elite prospects at his position for the Class of 2013. Theus indicated that he was “probably” going to commit, which inspired Ramsey to follow suit. Ramsey, an expert recruiter, then conspired to pull in two close friends and they broke the news together to an elated Mark Richt.

One of those close friends was wide receiver Tramel Terry from Goose Creek, S.C. (one of the top prospects in his state for 2013), who lived and trained with Ramsey over the summer. The other was Henry. He and Ramsey live about 15 minutes apart on either side of the Florida-Georgia border.

That night, Yulee coach Bobby Ramsay told the Athens Banner-Herald he was taken by surprise by Henry’s pledge. He also told the local paper that Richt was, too. He said Richt joked, “I’m trying to see if we can graduate (Henry) after his junior year.”

The reason so many recruiting writers were stunned by the news is because Henry had always been clear that Florida was his leader. He not only told me he was a life-long Gator fan, he showed me when I met him for the first time at the Nike Football Training Camp in Tallahassee in mid-April. His face lit up when the subject changed to his Gators. We talked about the spring game, which he watched on TV. We talked about current UF running backs Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps, big running back commitment Matt Jones and Charlie Weis’ pro-style offense.

So what really happened at Dawg Night? Did Henry merely get caught up in the excitement of the moment? Does he see a better opportunity with Georgia?

One week later, Ramsey, Henry and Henry’s coach were standing on Florida Field for Friday Night Lights. Ramsey participated, had a strong showing and spoke to Gatorsports afterward. He made it clear he was visiting Florida to be sure the Gator coaches did not stop recruiting him. He said he is keeping his options open and is wary of coaching changes and/or decommitments.

Henry did not participate or speak, but I talked at length with his coach. He said the commitment took him “very much by surprise.” He expected Georgia to be there until the end but wasn’t expecting a verbal or the timing of it. “As time went on, I felt like Florida, Georgia and probably Alabama had kind of moved away from everybody else.

“I will say I do think he wanted to slow some things down. Take that for what you will. He just wants to focus on the season and what he’s got to do academically. He wants to keep up communication with (the Florida coaches) for sure. I told Coach (Will) Muschamp, the reason we came wasn’t because of Florida, it was because of the staff. We think a lot of them and the job they’ve done, the way they’re doing things. He really respects them and likes them a lot.”

Coach Ramsay was careful not to speak for Henry. So I suggested that perhaps making a verbal commitment so early would have a similar effect as, say, a prospect naming his top three teams — it eliminates a lot of phone calls, text messages and interviews from the process.

“Absolutely,” Ramsay said. “When you do eliminate those schools, you eliminate those websites as well. Narrowing it down to the ones he’s really interested in — then instead of talking to 40 people, you’re talking to 12. And he can manage it a little more that way and focus in on what he’s got to do to get qualified and all that good stuff.”


  1. Gator Ed- Do you know the Pouncey’s grew up Noles? Rainey recruited them to UF. Do you think they lacked “the heart to play for GATOR Nation” as you suggest? Do you think they’re Gators now? Does it matter who they rooted for before coming to G’ville?

  2. Long way to go till February 2013. But Georgia is in need of RBs….and Florida will be loaded with the guys they have coming. It might just come down to available playing time and the development of Crowell at Georgia. He become a star and gets all the playing time….the Gators come back into the picture. If Crowell follows the path of Kind and Ealey at Georgia, the kid becomes a Dawg, mostly likely. Still…..2013 is a long way away….and lots can happen before then. Commitments at this time from 2013 means little or nothing….as stated in the article.

  3. If Henry wants to play for Georgia, so be it. If the coaches truly think he’d be a great addition to the 2013 class, then they’ll keep recruiting him. He isn’t the only RB on the radar…not by a mile.

  4. Bottom line, this stuff will only get worse. There’s no reason to expect a rising Junior in HS to respect a “commitment” that he has no idea will be valid in another 18 or so months. Truthfully, coaches shouldn’t be allowed to talk to a recruit until after their junior year, these kids shouldn’t be expected to make a decision and stick by it….

  5. I agree with Tampa Gator, it’s a long time before Feb. 2013 and these kids are young and they(most of them) not really sure what they want to do. Give the kid what he appear to be asking for some breathing room. I think he’s just saying the process for him right now is too much!! Let him breath and and concentrate on getting better and eligible. when you’re a Gator fan it’s hard to just turn your back on the Nation.

  6. He simply got worn down by all the contacts and was caught up in the moment, at Georgia, knowing that he could change his mind if necessary! To criticize the kid is ridiculous! Just because one commits to another school doesn’t mean one doesn’t love UF! Look at Spurrier! Do you think he still loves UF! He’ll be in the fold, because this will be Mark Richts last year at Georgia, so, there will be many defections!

  7. Henry really grew up a gator fan…I live in Jacksonville and knew this kid forever…Hes not done with florida…But Mark Ritch was on him and I feel just told himalot of things he wanted to hear…He wants to play as soon as possible and that what he feels can be done best at georgia..Just believe if he does switch it will be the gators…Alabama he likes but they are a distant third….

  8. For those who think he is going to a RB in college, forget about it. He is a great player and athlete, but already too tall to be a RB and runs way too upright. Also looks like he is not finished growing. This kid’s future is on defense.

  9. Yes Cory we should! lol No we love Elam, and I agree that Henry will grow into a fine defensive end for the Gators soon enough…otherwise, tackling a 250lb 6’5″ Dawg running back running a 4.75 40 should be rather easy.

  10. At commit time Henry just sophomore–be junior in age/experience next June.
    Shy kids recoil at rejecting positive rah-rah overtures from h.s. buddies. His pals
    not the Ga. coaches swayed him.

    In 2 years time is right… he may be too big, too slow to be “escape-runner” & mediocre at another position..
    At the right timing if Henry fills Gator needs his n.fla. h.s. buddies going to
    U.F. will reel him in…… but Gators must beat Dogs.

  11. Still a long way until signing the 2013 class but he sounds solid in his commitment to the dawgs. At 235 and with sub 4.5 speed he’s going to be a load to bring down at the next level and if he moves to the defensive side he’ll be a great OLB/DE. Kid is an absolute stud glad to have him committed to UGA. over 5000 yards and 60 tds after his sophomore year in HS? This kid has all-american written all over him.

  12. At his age, I see him putting on another 20 lbs and growing another inch or two – no way he plays RB at the next level. This kid has DE/TE written all over him. ……. As far as him signing with UGA, I believe he just carried away with their event. Its not over.

  13. It’s waaay too early to put any stock in what is said by any 2013 recruit. I’d wager that more verbal commitments change than stick when they are made this early. Now if he’s talking the same way come December 2012 or January 2013, that’s a different story. But NSD for this kid is 77 weeks away, 2 full seasons of HS football.

    His coach said that he’s just trying to buy some breathing room. I’d give it to him for the short term.

  14. This is same guy I believe there was big story on in several months ago–and he was praising his undying love for the Gators. Richt said the right things (i.e., you will play running back position–which is this guy’s sole focus–; you will get chance to play as frosh), and the guy’s buddies pursuaded him to join the gang. This still should be a long way from over, when the pixie dust clears and things get truly serioius.

    • @pvbeachdog That is a good point. It bears watching to see if 2012 five-star RB Keith Marshall picks UGA, and if so what effect it has on Henry. As many of you have said, it’s a VERY LONG way to Feb. 2013. Couple other things, though — Henry is a terrific prospect and a good kid. It pains me to see how some fans downgrade their assessments of him as a running back after he committed to Georgia. I guess some people let their emotions get in the way. Also, Henry has already begun to play some tight end, despite his strong preference to play running back. I’m not yet ready to predict that he grows out of the running back position. He can be a devastating weapon there if he improves his pad level. All of his top teams are still recruiting him as a running back. I think at this stage it’s more likely that any possible move in college would more likely be to tight end.

  15. Jeff – who is downgrading? No one is insulting the kid. We all know how this works – he visited a school on the road for probably the first time at an event where he bonded with players and coaches and may have gotten carried away. I would say this is still not over……………. But rational wisdom tells you this guy, in 2 years, will be 6-4/5 and 260lbs – Are you willing to wager by year 2 of his college career that he is still at RB???? ………… I didn’t think so.