OSU coach Ryan Day praised Henderson for grinding out 152 yards on 28 carries against a tough Penn State defense on Oct. 30, but the youngster did not seem to have quite the same spring in his legs the rest of the season.
“We played some great teams towards the end of the season, so most of the home runs that I had at the beginning of the season — of course they didn’t hit as I wanted them to — this offseason, it’s been great for me,” Henderson said. “I’ve been pushing myself. I’m benching way more, squatting way more. I’m doing a lot of things.”
He credited director of strength and conditioning Mickey Marotti for helping him develop his body to better handle the pounding of a Big Ten season.
“All of the strength coaches have been pushing me,” Henderson said. “I’ve been I’ve been working my tail off so this year I’m ready.”
Of course, some struggles are to be expected for any player, especially a freshman whose senior season was wiped out by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I do think he hit a bit of the freshman wall,” running backs coach Tony Alford said. “I’m not trying to make excuses for him. I mean, it may sound like I am, but he played football as a junior in high school. The next time he put on a helmet he was playing in college. He missed his entire senior season. We thrust him into this situation, and I think in a lot of ways, his biological clock of playing football, he was tired.
“Because here’s the thing, he practiced at a relentless pace as well. What you can’t do is say, for instance, after the Tulsa game on Sunday, we’re out there stretching, I kind of looked at him and he’s like, ‘Ah, my leg hurts. I’m kinda tired.’ I said, ‘Well, okay. You got about five minutes to get in that line because you’re gonna practice in about five minutes.’”
The pace of the season can be a shock to the system, but it should pay off in the long run.
“You’re gonna practice every single day, and those practice reps matter,” Alford said. “That’s how you improve is through practice. And the way we practice, for young guys, can wear on them. And I just think he got a little tired.”
Henderson hopes to use the lessons of last year to be even better this fall.
“That Penn State game, I love games like that,” he said. “I mean, that was a tough game for me. That was a big a big moment for me and a huge step in my career. I felt like that was the first time I played a whole game.
“This year the schedule is pretty tough. We will play more teams like Penn State, so I’m ready for that like. I love games like that just competing on a high level.”