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Behind the scenes: Derrick Henry’s Heisman season

Alabama RB Derrick Henry wins the 2015 Heisman Memorial Trophy.
Brad Penner - USA TODAY Sports

Alabama running back and Florida (Yulee) native Derrick Henry played every slot machine well this week. He emerged a Doak Walker, Walter Camp and Maxwell national award honoree and became the 81st member of the Heisman fraternity Saturday night. He has had divine intervention, family, friends, teammates and coaches on this journey; however, one special coach has seen him through it all.

Running backs coach Burton Burns was in attendance Saturday night for Henry’s coronation. Travis Reier, senior analyst for, released information via Twitter on how Burns felt during Henry’s big night.

Coach Burns, 63, has been on Nick Saban’s staff at Alabama since 2007. He was an exceptional fullback at Nebraska from 1971-75 and served as a graduate assistant at Southern University (1981-85) and Tulane (1994-98). Burns found his passion in working with running backs when he came to Clemson (1999-06). 

Saban’s philosophy entitled “The Process” stems from ball protection or security on offense. Burns’ technique for Alabama’s backs from Glenn Coffee to Henry is to hold the ball high and tight. He wanted the players to hold the ball close to their body, negating any chances of fumbles. Burns’ message has produced six 1,000-yard rushers, two Doak Walker Award winners and two Heisman winners, Mark Ingram and Henry. 

Burns coached Henry to 1,986 rushing yards and 23 touchdowns. The 6-foot-3, 243-pound back is mentioned in the same breath with SEC legends Bo Jackson and Herschel Walker. His streak of consecutive games with a rushing touchdown is now at 18, and Henry will more than likely be Burns’ next player to go professional.

A lot of attention is geared toward Lane Kiffin, Mari Cristobal, Mel Tucker and Scott Cochran, but Burns has been a major cog in rebuilding the program and establish a “BuiltByBama” moniker. Henry’s grandmother, Gladys Henry, shaped her little “Shocka” to be a man of character and hard work. In the same manner, Burns shaped Henry to be a dynamic running back. It is time for fans and others to give him his due.

Alabama’s 1,000-yard featured running backs under Burns

  • RB Glenn Coffee- 1,383 yards, 2008
  • RB Mark Ingram- 1,658 yards, 2009
  • RB Trent Richardson- 1,679 yards, 2011
  • RB Eddie Lacy- 1,322 yards, 2012
  • RB T.J. Yeldon- 1,235 yards, 2013
  • RB Derrick Henry- 1,986 yards, 2015

Stephen M. Smith is a senior analyst and columnist for Touchdown Alabama MagazineYou can “like” him on Facebook or “follow” him on Twitter, via @ESPN_Future.

Stephen Smith is a 2015 graduate of the University of Alabama. He is a senior writer and reporter for Touchdown Alabama Magazine. He has covered Alabama football for 15 years and his knowledge and coverage of the Crimson Tide's program have made him among the most respected journalist in his field. Smith has been featured on ESPN and several other marquee outlets as an analyst.

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