Glades Day's Kelvin Taylor and Yulee's Derrick Henry, two of country's top all-time prep running backs, square off Friday
Wednesday, September 26, 2012
by Matt Porter
In March, when ESPN asked Glades Day to travel north to Yulee High for a nationally televised game, the network was interested in promoting a battle of future SEC running backs: Glades Day's Kelvin Taylor and Yulee's Derrick Henry.
Since then, Taylor and Henry have turned Friday's game (8 p.m., ESPNU) into a showcase for two of the most prolific high school backs in history.
Last year Taylor broke Emmitt Smith's state record for rushing yards. Last week, Henry upped the ante by passing Smith and setting a new state record for rushing yards in a single game. In a win over Jacksonville-Jackson, he carried for 502 yards, breaking the 27-year-old mark (501) formerly held by Tampa Bay Tech's Shawn Smith. He was named U.S. Army All-American Bowl High School Player of the Week for his efforts.
Taylor, whose single-game best is 437, and Henry are now chasing the national record set in Texas nearly 60 years ago.
Since his eighth-grade season at Glades Day, Taylor has a state-record 10,582 career rushing yards. Since the National Federation of High Schools recognizes totals from grades 9-12 in determining national records, Henry is actually closer to Ken "The Sugar Land Express" Hall's mark of 11,232 yards.
Henry has 9,255 yards, second to Taylor in Florida history and 1,977 behind Hall. From freshman year on, Taylor has 8,998 yards, 2,234 shy of Hall.
Also, if Henry gains more than 100 rushing yards Friday, he will tie the national record for consecutive 100-yard games (39).
The chance to see history in the making is a major reason Yulee expects fans to more than fill its 3,000-seat football stadium, located 12 miles south of the Florida-Georgia border.
Numerous college programs, including Florida, Alabama and Tennessee, are expected to get a look at Taylor, a Gators verbal commitment, and Henry, who was committed to Georgia before backing off this summer. Before Friday's game, Henry is expected to announce his choice of 'Bama or the Vols.
In addition to college fans, 20 current Jacksonville Jaguars players, including star running back Maurice Jones-Drew, are expected to attend along with Jaguars great Fred Taylor, Kelvin's father, who on Sunday will be inducted into the team's "Pride of the Jaguars" club during its game against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Taylor and Henry, who combined have nearly 12,000 Twitter followers, have hyped up the game all week on social media. Yulee reports stellar pre-sale numbers this week, while Glades Day fans are planning to drive up in droves.
"For Yulee, it's going to be insane," Hornets head coach Bobby Ramsay said. "Our little school and our little stadium are going to be bursting at the seams."
While the programs are similar in size (about 35 players each), run similar offensive and defensive sets and even have the same green-and-gold color schemes, they have markedly different histories.
Yulee High, which opened in 2006 and made its first playoff appearance in 2010, last year played Buford (Ga.) High on ESPNU. The Hornets have not advanced past the Class 4A regional finals.
Glades Day has won seven state titles, tied for the second-most in state history; been to the playoffs 19 years in a row, the third-longest streak in state history; and has made 30 playoff appearances, the second-most in state history. But the Gators have never played on national TV.
"I'm treating it like a regular game," said Taylor, who turns 19 on Friday. "It's going to be hard to do. You can't really treat it like a regular game with ESPN there."
Though Taylor has two state championship rings, he may never have played against a back like Henry, a 6-foot-3, 240-pound five-star recruit who runs a 4.56 40-yard dash.
"He's what Yulee's known for," said Ramsay, who is 31-15 in his fifth season at the school.
Both Taylor and Henry have critics: they say Taylor puffed his numbers against weaker Class 2A teams and that five years as a workhorse back in high school (and a 2010 knee surgery) have already put too much wear on his body for him to be an every-down back in college; they say Henry is too tall and runs too upright to play running back, that his freakish athleticism is better suited for linebacker or defensive end.
They continue to silence those doubts, and work on their next set of goals.
State championships. National championships. Heisman Trophies.
And a win Friday night.
Glades Day (4-0) at Yulee (3-1)
Time, TV: 8 p.m., ESPNU
About Glades Day: ranked No. 1 in Class 2A. ... Rushing for area-best 278.8 yards per game. ... Scoring 38 points per game (third-best in area) and allowing 16 ppg.
About Yulee: Unranked in Class 4A. ... Rushing for 381 yards per game. ... Scoring 42.5 points per game and allowing 23.3 ppg.
THE STAR BACKS
Kelvin Taylor, Glades Day, Sr.
College: Verbally committed to Florida
Size: 5-11, 215 pounds
40 time: 4.62
2012 stats: 884 yards, 15 TDs
Career: 10,582 yards, 165 TDs
Derrick Henry, Yulee, Sr.
College: Alabama, Tennessee leading; announcement Friday
Size: 6-3, 240 pounds
40 time: 4.74
2012 stats: 1,391 yards, 18 TDs
Career: 9,255 yards, 123 TDs