This time a year ago, Ohio State sophomore running back TreVeyon Henderson had the fifth-best Heisman odds in the nation. The only running back ahead of him was Texas’ Bijan Robinson, who just went eighth overall in last month’s NFL Draft.
At the start of last season, he picked up pretty much where he left off, averaging 7.1 yards per carry in the Buckeyes’ first two contests. Then came a foot injury against Toledo in the third game of the season. From there, Henderson’s season had as many starts and stops as a kid learning how to drive a stick shift.
Henderson only carried the four times against the Rockets before leaving the game. Despite the injury, he still played the following week in a big matchup against Wisconsin. He rushed for 121 yards on 21 carries. Rutgers was the next game up, which Henderson missed.
Following the week off, Henderson was again back on the field in East Lansing where he rushed for 118 yards on 19 carries. That was the sixth game of the season, but over the final seven games for the Buckeyes, Henderson would play in just three more games and carry the ball just 38 more times.
“I fractured my sesamoid bone,” Henderson explained this spring. “So you’ve got two of those, and when they did the X-ray, I basically had three. My bone had split, and that’s like the bone you need to actually push off. So basically I couldn’t push off that whole last season. Every time I tried to push off, I was basically refracturing that bone. And then I tore some ligaments and tendons. So my foot was basically beat up.”
Henderson tried to fight through it — and did for a while — but the constant reinjuring of his foot ultimately forced him to shut down for the season. He ended up missing both of Ohio State’s losses to Michigan and Georgia last year.
“It was tough just going into games. I was barely practicing all last season going up into the games,” Henderson said. “And then going into the games constantly wondering, ‘Will I be able to just cut again?’ ‘Will I be able to be full speed again? Will I be able to just be myself?’ And I feel like that affected me a lot.”
Henderson rehabbed in the offseason and entered the spring feeling good, but Ohio State still held him out of most aspects of spring practice. They wanted to be appropriately cautious with Henderson so that he wouldn’t have any setbacks.
But if they would have let him, Henderson would have been right in the thick of everything.
“I feel like I’m 100 percent. I’m running full speed, I’m back to cutting, so I’m feeling great now,” Henderson said back in early April. “I feel like I’m back to myself. I started doing some individual work, but they still want to keep me out of team work just to be safe. When I come back, they want me to come back for good.”
It was difficult for Henderson to watch from the sidelines, but he got involved where he could. He did the individual work that was required and whatever extra work he could find. It was all done with a plan to get back to being the running back that exploded on the national scene as a true freshman in 2021.
The difficulties of last season won’t be soon forgotten, but Henderson is certainly trying to put them in the past.
“I’ve got a lot of expectations for myself. I hold myself to a high standard, and I definitely didn’t play up to that standard — my standard — last year,” he said. “So this year, I just want to play up to my standard again. I feel like I’m back to myself and I’m ready. I’m ready, whenever the coaches and the trainers let me free, I’m gonna do whatever I can.”
Ohio State running backs coach Tony Alford has seen it all first hand. The ups and downs, the drive, and the hunger to be back on the field as soon as possible. He made sure to keep Henderson engaged in the meetings and ask questions about specific plays and assignments. Even though Henderson wasn’t on the field physically, Alford wanted him there mentally.
When the Buckeyes do finally open up fall camp at the beginning of August, it will be a much different running backs room than it was a year ago. Ohio State didn’t add any true freshmen, but they do have five scholarship players all worthy of getting touches.
Miyan Williams led the Buckeyes in rushing last year with 825 yards. Henderson finished second with 571, but he was closely followed by surprising true freshman Dallan Hayden. Evan Pryor signed with Ohio State in the same class as Henderson, but missed all of last season with a knee injury. Chip Trayanum transferred in last year to play linebacker, but he was the leading rusher in last year’s Michigan game.
Everybody is back, and Henderson can’t wait.
“Shoot, it doesn’t phase me at all,” Henderson said. “I tell Coach Alford I don’t care who he brings in. I want him to bring in the best competition because that’s not gonna do anything but bring out the best in everyone else. So the competition is never a thing for me.”