The only thing that Michael Henry remembers about the Nicholls State football team’s 52-27 loss at Southeastern Louisiana to close the 2013 season was how good his opponents were.
With the victory, the Lions clinched their first Southland Conference title and punctuated the Colonels’ six-game losing streak. But Henry, a sophomore running back at the time, had a big day of his own, racking up 175 total yards in a breakout game that was an indicator of things to come.
Now a senior and Nicholls’ feature back, Henry is on a mission to get bigger, faster, stronger and more explosive.
“This is the best I’ve felt so far in college, and I feel like I’ve gotten a lot stronger,” he said Wednesday at Southland Conference Media Day. “I feel a lot faster when we’re conditioning and running.”
Henry rushed for 1,005 yards and six touchdowns in 11 games last season, earning him a second-team All-Southland nod.
He became only the third Nicholls player to surpass 1,000 yards on the ground in a season. The senior is set to share the backfield with another player who reached the milestone: junior quarterback Tuskani Figaro, who set the program rushing record in 2013 before redshirting last year.
New Nicholls coach Tim Rebowe said he will employ a spread offense, and Henry doesn’t mind splitting carries.
“The spring gave me a little taste of (running out of the spread), and I have to say that I like it,” he said. “I like the options and the freedom it gives us as a running back crew. It really suits us and allows us to put our vision and instincts on display.”
While Henry capitalizes on savvy running and footwork, junior defensive back B.T. Sanders said that’s not the only skill the rusher has at his disposal.
“He’s physical. He gets north and south and makes that one cut,” Sanders said. “Whoever is in his way after that one cut is getting run over.”
Henry, a 6-foot-2, 225-pounder, traced his physicality to his days at Baton Rouge’s Episcopal High, where he primarily played middle linebacker. Henry amassed 174 tackles and 24 tackles for loss between his junior and senior seasons, earning a spot on the Class 2A first-team all-state squad in 2011.
But he also started at running back his senior season, and he received first-team all-district honors for his efforts before capping his prep career as MVP of the U.S. Army Red Stick Bowl.
After serving as a special teams player for Nicholls as a freshman, Henry completed his transition to full-time running back in 2013 by averaging 94.7 all-purpose yards in the three games in which he received a touch. He said he sometimes misses the physicality of playing defense, but he has embraced his role in the backfield.
“I love scoring touchdowns and making people miss,” he said. “There’s nothing like scoring a touchdown, because it takes the whole offense working together. I love when I’m in the end zone and I turn around to see all those big guys who blocked for me. That’s a feeling that you can’t get on defense.”
Henry said he never worried about which position he was going to play in college, instead opting to fill in wherever he fit best.
He flourished in the Colonels’ scheme as a junior, finishing third in the conference at 91.4 rushing yards per game. He tallied 5.5 yards per carry against league opponents and was Nicholls’ No. 2 pass-catcher with 253 yards on 28 catches.
His successful junior campaign landed him on the 2015 preseason All-SLC first team, prompting him to take on a larger leadership role for a team that hasn’t won since Oct. 12, 2013.
Luckily for the Colonels, Henry was mentoring his teammates long before he became a senior.
“Ever since I first got here as a freshman, (Henry) was always a vocal leader,” Sanders said. “That’s just his personality.”
After seeing the strides his teammates made in the offseason, Henry is confident Nicholls can snap its 18-game losing streak and surprise the Southland in 2015.
As he pushes to be the best he can be, he hopes the team will follow suit.
“I try to be the best leader I can be for my team in everything — on and off the field, in workouts, running or meetings,” Henry said. “I try to set the tone. ... I’m not the biggest, fastest or strongest guy, but I work hard every day.
“If you come to work every day, you’ll find success.”