Every running back comes to Ohio State with expectations. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t have warranted a look from the Buckeyes. Few running backs, however, have brought with them the expectations that are following incoming freshman running back TreVeyon Henderson.

Both 247Sports and ESPN ranked Henderson as the top running back in the 2021 recruiting class, giving the Buckeyes their first consensus No. 1 running back recruit since Chris “Beanie” Wells in 2006. Wells finished as OSU’s No. 6 all-time rusher with 3,382 yards on the ground.

The interesting thing here is that Henderson was only a full-time running back as a junior. He missed his senior season at Hopewell (VA) High School, which was postponed and moved to the spring due to the pandemic. Henderson is already enrolled at Ohio State in hopes of getting a jump on his Buckeye career, which is precisely what his high school football coach Ricky Irby would have expected.

“He wants to take care of his mom. He’s very cerebral,” Irby told Buckeye Scoop recently. “Everything he does is research-based. Going down to picking Ohio State. He did a lot of research. And so he knows that he’s got God-given ability and he wants to maximize it. He’s just a very driven and motivated kid to be successful.”

Now as an Ohio State running back, there is a historical weight being carried by Henderson, but it is nothing new for him and probably not even a noticeable addition to the expectations he carries for himself.

Being good at football is old hat for Henderson. Irby remembers watching him in middle school. “He’d take a punt to the house like it was nothing. Nobody would touch him. We knew he was special.”

Irby knew of Henderson well before those middle school days, having also watched his older brother Ronnie Walker come up through middle school football as well. Irby actually went to school with Henderson’s mother Lakeesha Hayes-Winfield at Hopewell, “She was a really good basketball and softball player here.”

Few people have had Irby’s vantage point when it comes to watching TreVeyon Henderson’s path to Ohio State. He has watched him grow from a young player to a local legend, never once stopping to ever be anything but himself.

“He’s a natural-born leader,” Irby said. “The kid came up to us as a ninth grader and we never even thought about putting a JV uniform on him. He went straight from middle school football to starting on a state championship varsity football team at safety. He also played some receiver for us that year as well as a freshman. He’s a kid that that he’s always going to be working the hardest. He’s gonna hold himself accountable and he’s holding his teammates accountable. He’s very driven and very motivated to be the best player in the world. And he’s pretty good.”

For a while, it looked like Henderson’s future would be in the defensive backfield. Clemson offered him as a safety. Notre Dame wanted him as a cornerback. Tennessee and Syracuse offered him as a receiver.

The spring after Henderson’s sophomore season, Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables told the Hopewell staff that he was the best player they’d seen that year on film at defensive back.

“My DBs coach is great, man. He’s been working with Trey obviously since Trey came up here as a ninth grader,” Irby said. “He told us day one, he said ‘this kid’s gonna be a major D-I kid.’ And you know, you say that and at the time you’re like, ‘man, maybe.’ Then you saw his work ethic and I just watched him blossom into not only an outstanding football player but an outstanding young man. He’s a legend in our area. I’ll say that.”

Hopewell is a mid-level school in Virginia. They play 3A while the bigger schools play 6A. Hopewell still plays against and beats those 6A teams, but it means that since Hopewell is a smaller school, a lot of their players go both ways. It wasn’t until his sophomore season, however, that Henderson started to see some serious minutes on offense. He began making plays on whichever side of the ball he was placed. It was then that Irby knew he had a major Division-I prospect on his hands.

“Well, I’d say his sophomore year,” Irby began. “We go into Dinwiddie, who had a 35-game winning streak in the regular season, in our district hadn’t lost a district game in forever, and we lose our quarterback on Wednesday. And so we put a package in on Thursday for Trey as a Wildcat. And so it’s a defensive battle, it’s 0-0 in the fourth quarter, we put Trey in there at the Wildcat, and the first time he touches the ball he goes 80 yards. Then he picks a pass off at the end of the game. We win 7-0. And right then you just see it. You know? You see it. He’s so competitive. He wants to win every snap, every rep. And if he doesn’t, he’s going to work even harder to do it next time.

“And then you know we ended up putting him a little bit more in the backfield. That was like week seven or week eight, the last few games we had him in the backfield a little bit more. Giving him more carries. Then by the end of the season we figured out this kid’s a running back. And we would give him some jets sweeps and things like that earlier in the season, but yeah, he kind of made us look stupid.”

Even after he became a star running back in 2019, Henderson was still roaming the defense as a safety, though they did have to change up his role a bit in order to protect him.

“My DBs coach was fine with it. Trey was the one that had the problem with the change,” Irby laughed. “Trey likes to come down, he’s a physical kid. We’re a two-high safety team and we play teams that are heavy run that play tight end formations, so we roll one of our safeties down in the C gap and let him be a thumper, and Trey was always that guy. Well, we didn’t do that his junior year. We kept him high at the high safety just to keep anything from scoring and just keep him healthier. And he was mad at coach Stanley, our DBs coach, more than I think coach Stanley was upset with us.”

Henderson was just one part of a talented running attack for Hopewell, but his presence was felt all over the program. As a freshman, he kept his head down and worked. He wasn’t necessarily a vocal player yet, and wasn’t needed to be. He was joining a state title team after all, not the Bad News Bears. Plus, his older brother was still on the team and there was plenty of deference there as well.

As a sophomore, Henderson started to find his voice and then as a junior he was as much a vocal leader as a leader by example.

“I teach a leadership in sports class through school here and sometimes kids get put in positions where they’re leaders just by who they are. And then some are born leaders,” Irby said. “Trey had both of those qualities. He was born with great leadership skills and just the fact that he was the best player on our team he became a leader that way. And really embraced that role and accepted it and did a great job with it.”

For some players, that role can be too much of a responsibility to bear. They still do their job, but they’d prefer to stay out of the spotlight while they do it. Some players would rather exist in the background. Henderson may not set out to lead, but as the pace setter, he accepts the responsibility for being out front.

The Hopewell program exists with a motto that they call ‘CLAW.’ It stands for character, leadership, accountability, and work ethic. Some players need to be coached up on those four aspects. Henderson did not. Nor did his older brother. Irby credits Henderson’s mother for keeping both brothers grounded. There’s also a third brother coming. Kesean Henderson is in the ninth grade and will likely start at linebacker this season — which starts this month — and will also get some snaps at running back.

Henderson’s work ethic proved a perfect fit at Hopewell and Irby expects the same thing at Ohio State. In order to play running back in high school, Henderson added 15-20 pounds of muscle. In order to play running back at Ohio State, he has added more weight and more muscle. He continued to prepare even as high school sports began getting canceled due to the pandemic.

“When he was a sophomore, he hadn’t run the 100 meters in a meet since he was a sophomore,” Irby said. “The spring season got canceled for track last year when he was a junior, and then obviously now he’s at Ohio State his senior year. And he was sub-11. I think his verified time for the 100 meters was a 10.89 or something. I would say he’s probably 10.4, 10.5 right now. That’s how much faster he’s gotten.”

His time at safety allowed him to get used to — and enjoy — the game’s physicality. It has come in handy in his time at running back as well. Henderson has the speed and agility to make defenders look foolish, but also the physicality needed for when things get a bit congested.

In fact, when you look at the entire skill set, there’s nothing that seems to be lacking other than experience.

“Not many weaknesses. He’s just got to learn the position,” Irby said of his former running back. “I think sometimes he can be a little more patient. He got much, much better with that as year went on, but he was fairly raw at the running back position. We run a lot of counters and you can see that on his film and in the beginning he was a little fast, he was beating the linemen to the hole, but he was still outrunning everybody. Once we got him a little more patient it got better, and I think that’s his biggest weakness is just the fact that he’s still raw at the running back position.

“In my opinion, he is the best player in America. And just being able to watch him on a consistent basis and see what he does in practice and in games, it’s just amazing. And in probably half our games his junior year, he didn’t play the second half because he’d just light it up in the first half and then he’d sit and rest. There were games where he’d have three carries for three touchdowns, 150 yards, and then he’d take the rest of the night off. He’s just that special.”

Most of what makes TreVeyon Henderson such an ideal running back prospect is visible on film. But that’s just the glimpse that is recorded by the camera.

It’s the stuff that isn’t seen that makes everything else stand out like it does.

“He is a 4.0 GPA kid. Straight A student, and he does everything the right way,” Irby said. “He does everything to the best of his abilities and I definitely would see him fitting right in there at Ohio State.

“Like I said, he wants to be the greatest in the world.”

[TreVeyon Henderson header photo courtesy of TreVeyon Henderson/Twitter.]

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