Throwback Thursday: UGA was Keith Henderson’s No. 2 school

Former UGA running back Keith Henderson (right) signed with UGA even though it was his No. 2 school. His big day in 1985 fueled a little more property damage in Jacksonville.

Momma put her foot down.

That’s the DawgNation Throwback Thursday story of how another great running back wound up at UGA. Former UGA fullback and tailback Keith Henderson came from an era in which the overall talent at the running back position has likely never been greater.

While the thought of Nick Chubb and Keith Marshall and Sony Michel all performing at close to an ALL-SEC level sure seems impressive, the position has had even more talent.

Henderson was part of a backfield that UGA even proclaimed as its “Four Horsemen.” That stable saw all four of its primary run threats plus another member of that backfield reach the NFL.

Rodney Hampton and Tim Worley wound up becoming NFL first-round draft picks. Lars Tate was a second-round selection and Henderson went in the third round. Henderson started at both fullback and tailback at UGA. He holds the rare distinction of being the starter at tailback while Worley emerged as a Heisman Trophy candidate while serving as his backup in 1988.

“Vince Dooley wanted at least two fresh running backs to rotate in every other series,” Henderson said. ‘That was his motto.”

The Cartersville native was a wanted man coming out of high school. Henderson told the AJC that he was a four-time All-State player in high school. He was basically his NFL playing weight as a prep sophomore when he started receiving major scholarship offers.

Henderson was already at the 6-foot-1 mark and  weighing around 215 pounds at that time. He also wanted to join Jimmy Johnson’s Hurricanes in Miami. That was his top school.

“I chose Georgia because of my mother,” Henderson said. “She was a woman who didn’t like to travel. I picked Georgia because Georgia was the closest and because it had the tradition of having some really great running backs.”

Those were the immediate years after that guy named Walker stalked the end zones at UGA. So the recruiting pitch that landed him might have been incredibly powerful, but it all came down to what Elaine Henderson said.

That kept Henderson from joining the Hurricanes during their ascent into college football’s elite.

“When Momma put her foot down, that was it,” Henderson said. “Miami was just too far away. …Miami was my first choice and Georgia was second, but when I signed with Georgia she was very happy.”

Henderson said he was a four-time All-State selection at Cartersville. He played tailback and strong safety, but also punted and kicked off.

“I was the field goal kicker but we didn’t kick too many long field goals,” he said. “We always scored touchdowns.”

Henderson was targeted early in high school much like prospects are today, but his high school head coach was fearful of distractions.

“I would be watching film and I’d look over and see the trash can and see all my college letters in the trash can,” Henderson said. “I had to find most of my wadded-up letters in the trash can. I would take them out of the trash can, then take them home and read them.”

Henderson’s greatest UGA day came when an under-the-radar team went into the Gator Bowl and thrashed No. 1 Florida by a 24-3 margin. He was a freshman at the time, but ran through the Gators for 145 yards to soil the first No. 1 ranking in their history.

He needed just nine carries to tally all those yards. Henderson was a freshman at the time and thrilled the UGA crowd with a 76-yard scoring run. He went on to the lead the team in rushing that year with 731 yards out of the fullback spot. He averaged 6.8 yards per carry.

“Vince Dooley was a genius in that right,” said Henderson, who now resides in Cartersville. “He wanted to rotate four fresh running backs into the game at all times. That kept getting the defense tired and kept us fresh. I’m sure defenses never really enjoyed a running back with fresh legs coming at them every series.”

Henderson still defines that day when UGA snapped Florida’s 18-game unbeaten streak as the best moment of his football career. That includes winning a Super Bowl during his rookie season in the NFL with the San Francisco 49ers.

He’s still in the all-time Top 25 in terms of all-purpose yardage at UGA.

Jeff Sentell covers UGA recruiting for AJC.com and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow him on Twitter for the latest on who’s on their way to play Between the Hedges.

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