College football stars are born on the practice field and in the weight room. But they're made on national television.
With the bright lights of ESPN illuminating the Liberty Bowl for a national audience Friday night, University of Memphis tailback Darrell Henderson
became a college football star. The junior from Batesville, Mississippi, gashed the Georgia State defense for 233 yards and three touchdowns on merely 14 carries. He enjoyed a 54-yard jaunt to pay dirt in the first quarter, a 61-yarder early in the fourth quarter, and finished the contest just 30 yards shy of the Tigers' single-game record of 263 set by DeAngelo Williams in 2004. Henderson has 521 rushing yards and seven touchdowns in merely three games. (With 27 career touchdowns, Henderson is now tied for fourth in Memphis history, still some distance behind the record 60 scored by Williams.)
"Darrell is explosive," said Tiger coach Mike Norvell after his team improved to 2-1 for the season. "But what you don't see is how hard he works in practice. He prepares himself. He's matured. He gained between 15 and 20 pounds in the offseason. It makes him a more durable, more every-down back. But he'd be the first to credit the offensive line up front."
Six days after a deflating loss at Navy, the Tigers regained their point-scoring mojo. The Memphis offense gained 410 yards on the ground with freshman Kenny Gainwell
adding a 72-yard touchdown scamper to Henderson's heroics. Quarterback Brady White
matched his touchdown total from the season opener with five, completing 19 of 26 passes for 269 yards. Sophomore Damonte Coxie
was White's favorite target, hauling in six passes for 123 yards and two touchdowns. Overall, Memphis averaged more than 10 yards per play with 679 on 62 snaps. The Panthers were held to 312 yards on 77 plays.
Norvell expressed special pride in a blocked point-after attempt by sophomore Joseph Dorceus
late in the third quarter. The game was over on the scoreboard (45-16 at the time), but the play reflected collective heart after a 15-play Panther touchdown drive. And especially on national TV. "Some people downplay the stage," said Norvell. "Anytime you get a chance for millions of people to see the identity of this football team . . . our brand has spread nationally. It's impressive, the commitment from this community. Walk through that [renovated] locker room."
Henderson became the 10th Tiger to surpass 2,000 career rushing yards. He was all smiles after the game (his second straight 200-yard performance), but deflected the emphasis on numbers. "I feel more comfortable this year," he said. "Our offensive line has worked their tales off, and I believe in them. I trust them. I just go through my reads."
Henderson acknowledged the added muscle has helped his game, allowing him to run over defenders as well as around them. "When I was lighter last year, it took more energy," he said. "I enjoy running over people now."
Linebacker Bryce Huff
led the Tiger defense with a pair of sacks and Tito Windham
had an acrobatic interception. But even the Tiger defenders got caught up in Henderson's show. "When we get off the field, we'll gather in a circle," said Huff. "I see [Henderson] make one move and I know: six."
The Tigers return to the Liberty Bowl for their next game on September 22nd, when South Alabama (like Georgia State, a Sun Belt Conference member) comes to town.