Submitted by Robin C. Lentz
December 21, 2015 7:05 a.m.
Editor’s Note: After learning that City of Fernandina Beach Vice Mayor Robin Lentz served as one of Derrick Henry’s track coaches during his younger years as a student in Yulee, Florida, we asked Lentz to share her remembrances with our readers. We hope you enjoy!
I first heard the name “Derrick Henry” when I ran into my friend, Coach Jonathan Tate. Coach Tate is the PE teacher at Yulee Elementary, and we occasionally would see each other. As coaches, we often talked about some of the students he took note of during PE, but never before did he stress to me that an upcoming sixth grader “had to run track” and that “he is going to be a stud.” This upcoming sixth grader’s name was Derrick Henry, and I promised to keep my eye out for this kid.
It wasn’t long after the start of Derrick Henry’s sixth grade year that he immediately showcased his football skills at Yulee Middle School where I was one of the guidance counselors and track coaches. When football season rolled into basketball, Derrick showed promise there too and, not surprisingly, track and field came naturally to him. The kids and teachers called him by his family nickname, “Shocka.”
By his eighth grade year, Shocka had blossomed into a strong athlete. He was maturing and making the connections between his effort in the classroom and on the field. At this point, he really found his passion in football and the other sports became his hobbies. He developed relationships with his coaches and the administrative staff. His coaches, particularly Mr. JT Medley, mentored him by making him a part of his own family-dinners, taking him home from practice, and making sure his homework was done.
“It has been a blessing to have him in my and my family’s life to watch him grow and mature and meet his goals,” said Medley in recent phone interview.
Many local private schools were scoping Shocka out, and I’m sure they were “recruiting” (which is illegal according to the Florida High School Athletic Association, but it still happens). I’m proud of Shocka for staying true to Yulee and continuing his education at Yulee High School. Once he was there, the middle school staff kept up with him through Mr. Medley, his mentor. Of course we went to games on Friday nights to watch the magic. And magic it was! He owns the national career high school rushing yardage record.
Derrick verbally committed to Mark Richt at the University of Georgia the summer before his senior year. In the fall of the 2012 season, I went to a Georgia Tech game in Atlanta and met their head recruiter through a friend of a friend. In passing conversation, I made the comment, “I wish Tech would have recruited one of my former students.” He said, “Oh yeah, who is that?” I responded: Derrick Henry. He stopped what he was doing, and looked me straight in the eyes, “He has good grades! We could make him a Heisman Trophy winner here at Georgia Tech. You know him?”
I always like to tell the Georgia Tech story because as an educator and guidance counselor, I thought it was telling how the recruiter’s first comments were about Shocka’s “good grades.” It is one thing to be unbelievable with a football, but it means so much more to set that same example off the field and in the classroom.
Once the real recruiting commenced, every famous coach around the country paid a visit to Yulee High School. It was fun chatting at lunch about what famous person we saw driving by on their way to YHS that morning. It was Nick Saban who came in person to see Derrick and swayed him to go to Alabama. And the rest is history painted in crimson and houndstooth.
How fun it has been watching national football coverage every week and seeing reporters talk about Derrick. Everyone knows the kind of season he has had: surpassing Herschel Walker’s rushing record and last week, winning the Heisman Trophy. Drive through Yulee and see how proud everyone is of him. I am one of those proud people too. Watching his acceptance speech last week brought tears to my eyes. I know how nervous he must have been, but I was overjoyed with his humbleness and gratitude to everyone who helped him get where he is today.
To Coach Tate at Yulee Elementary, you were right. Derrick Henry is a stud. To JT Medley, administrators at Yulee Middle, Coach Ramsay, the guidance counselors at YHS and all of the other teachers, thank you for setting stellar examples for Derrick to model himself after. To the recruiter at Georgia Tech, yep, he’s a Heisman Trophy winner- you were right too! Derrick, congratulations to you and all of your accomplishments. You make all of us proud. Thank you for staying true to Nassau County by staying at YHS when I know Bolles would have found a way for you to attend. And thank you for setting an example for the young people following in your footseps – maintaining your grades, working hard, and following your dreams. We all cannot wait to see what the next chapter brings.