As freshman seasons go, last year TreVeyon Henderson had one to remember.
He rushed for 1,248 yards but didn’t start at running back for the Buckeyes until week three. Once he did hit the starting lineup against Tulsa in the third game of the year, however, he responded with an Ohio State freshman rushing record of 270 yards.
Henderson carried the ball 23 times against the Golden Hurricane, scoring three touchdowns. In that game, he had carries of 31, 48, 52, and 54 yards. Combine those numbers with his 70-yard touchdown catch against Minnesota in the season opener, and Henderson quickly developed a reputation as a homerun hitter.
In fact, Henderson led the nation with five rushes of at least 30 yards over the first month of the season. And nobody had more than his four rushes of 40+ yards. Those numbers dropped in October as Henderson only had two rushes of 30 yards or more. That number still tied for the Big Ten lead, but it was certainly underwhelming given the initial start.
In November, the numbers again dropped for Henderson as he had just one rush of 30-plus yards.
“We played some great teams towards the end of the season, so most of the homeruns that I had at the beginning of the season, of course they didn’t hit as I wanted them to,” Henderson said on Friday. “But this offseason, it’s been great for me. I’ve been pushing myself. I’m benching way more, squatting way more. I’m doing a lot of things. Coach Mick, he’s been pushing me. All of the strength coaches have been pushing me. I’ve been working my tail off so this year I’m ready.”
While Henderson doesn’t believe he hit any kind of “freshman wall,” the numbers are interesting nonetheless. In September, he averaged 109.8 yards rushing per game — and that was with a Minnesota game that only saw him carry the ball twice. In October, his average dropped to 101.5 yards rushing per game. His yard-per-carry numbers dropped from 9.5 yards per carry in September to 6.7 in October. November saw his rushing average drop to 81.8 yards rushing per game despite only one less carry than the month before. And his yard-per-carry average dropped to 5.5 yards per rush.
Numbers dropping as a player gets into tougher weather in conference play is nothing new in the Big Ten, but for Henderson, everything was new. And it took its toll.
“Yeah, he was banged up,” OSU running backs coach Tony Alford said this week. “He was banged up a little bit. I do think he hit a bit of the freshman wall. You’re talking about a guy that — I’m not trying to make excuses for him. I mean, it may sound like I am. 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.”
Henderson’s maturity has always stood out in his time at Ohio State, on and off the field. When he’s thinking football, it’s all-encompassing. It’s workouts, drills, study, and everything else. Off the field, it’s the same thing.
“He’s a pro,” Alford said. “That guy, his mental makeup, it’s always been very strong, but the way he approaches his business, I mean, when he speaks now, it’s business and you know he knows what he’s talking about. We talk about respect is earned. Well, he’s earned every bit of respect that he’s getting. And just by the way he carries himself. Not just with the staff but with the football team as a whole in the locker room.”
It takes a certain level of maturity to enroll early as a true freshman like Henderson did last year, but then that maturity needs to be put to good use by learning the right way. Henderson eventually found out that the Buckeyes weren’t going to be lining up against Tulsa every week and sometimes the swings that used to lead to homeruns now just turn into popups.
That’s one of the lessons that has made Henderson a better player this year as a sophomore. There was an emphasis made on getting the tough yards late in the season last year. Homeruns are still very welcome, but great offenses rely on a running back being able to get the three to five yards that can move the chains or keep an offense on schedule. The Buckeyes had issues getting some of those tough yards in November games against Nebraska and Michigan.
The Michigan loss is its own motivator, and to keep games like that from happening again, the tough yards need to be acquired.
Having seen the work that Henderson has put in and the subsequent results, Alford is confident that the sophomore tailback is a much better player than he was a year ago.
“I think he’s light years better,” Alford said. “I think he’s light years ahead of where he was. And now how does that translate? I can’t tell you. Does that translate into yards? I mean, there’s a lot of things that that you can watch the maturity, but it may not show in yards. It may not show in carries. But what it does, it shows itself in the locker room, it shows itself in the meeting room.”
There are several reasons to expect a more successful running game this season. One, Henderson is a year older and he still has plenty of goals to reach. Two, a renewed focus on run blocking with new offensive line coach Justin Frye. Three, it’s the only way forward.
TreVeyon Henderson has put in the work to help make all of the above happen. He was already in rarefied air as a true freshman and now he’s trying to climb even higher as a sophomore.
“I’m trying to be on the level that all the greats are,” he said. “Eddie George, Archie Griffin, Ezekiel Elliott, JK Dobbins, all those guys. I’m just trying to get on the level that they were on.”
The first year was outstanding for Henderson, but he wants this season to land him among the legends.
And based on what we learned about Henderson as a true freshman, he generally reaches his goals.