Derrick Henry, the fleet-footed running back from the University of Alabama, won the Heisman Trophy on Saturday.
The speech the gentle giant delivered that night is what is still resonating.
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He immediately thanked God. The college junior, 242 pounds, spoke what he believed.
The secret of this athlete’s success? Mom, Dad, family — and God. What guts to be a man and speak about his faith in such a public setting as he accepted one of the top awards for individual performance in college football.
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His parents were just 16 and 15 years old when he was born. They chose life. He grew up in Yulee, Florida, with his mother and grandmother and went on to lead his team to a 12-1 season, the SEC championship and the No. 2-ranked standing in the College Football Playoff.
“First off, I just want to thank God for bringing me here and letting me win this prestigious award,” said Henry at the podium. “He’s been so good to me in my life, and I’ve been honored and blessed for this opportunity … I’m just so thankful.”
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Henry went out of his way to thank his parents, who were watching their son from the front row, and his grandmother, who kept him on the straight and narrow. She wasn’t there that night but was “with him in spirit,” he said.
“My mom, my best friend, who brought me into this world, I just want to thank you so much,” said Henry. “Any time I was struggling, you were always there for me. I’d call you late at night, you’d be asleep, it would be 3 o’clock in the morning, but you always heard what I had to say, just to help me get through what I had to get through. To my dad, my number one fan, man — he kept me in sports, he was always there for me. Day after day. … I just want to thank you so much, for always being there for me. … My grandmother, the one who made me who I am today, I want to thank you so much … I love you so much.”
Then, missing no one, he thanked his teammates for their selflessness and team play.
“My brothers, my family … They all loved me, they all supported me. And this season, man, they saw me as a leader, the young guys following behind me … All I wanted to do was affect them by the way I practiced, the way I worked hard.”
Henry, 21, said he gets on his knees every single night and prays. He advised all the children watching him to keep God first, to always pray, and to know that God hears their prayers and their voices.
“I just want to talk to the kids that are looking and watching this TV today,” Henry said. “I just want to give you all advice. I am hoping I am someone you can idolize yourself behind and look up to, because God is everything. Always keep God first. Always pray. Don’t be afraid to pray. He always hears your cry.”
“If you have dreams, go chase them,” he continued. “If you believe it, you can achieve it. And God will be there every step of the way. I am a living testament, man. Growing up, having this dream, I am so nervous. I never thought I would be up here. But God is good. And I get on my knees every night and thank him for everything. So keep God first. Always pray. And always chase your dream.”
Henry’s father made some mistakes in his own life, and was arrested for marijuana and cocaine possession at various points. The senior Henry acknowledged those errors and has said he worked hard to get on the right path again. The redemptive story obviously made an impact on his son.
“It was just me being young and crazy and just running the streets and hanging with the wrong crowd as I grew up,” the senior Henry told ESPN. “I told him (Derrick): ‘You don’t need to do that. I mean, that’s no life. You can wait and don’t get started early. You have a chance to be somebody, not just sit around and let your life waste away.’”
The advice has paid off.
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