With a senior and a junior ahead of him on the depth chart, Manual High School sophomore running back Troy Henderson didn’t figure to be the No. 1 guy in the backfield when the season started.
But as the Crimsons get set to face their toughest test of the season Friday night, Henderson will be expected to carry the load.
“It’s not a surprise,” Henderson said, “but it is a dream.”
Henderson is hoping his dream season will continue when the Crimsons (7-1) – No. 17 in the state in The Courier-Journal’s Litkenhous Ratings – host No. 1 Male (8-0) at 7:30 p.m. in the 133rd edition of the Old Rivalry. The Bulldogs snapped a four-game losing streak to Manual with a 28-21 victory last year and lead the series 81-45-6.
For Manual to get the upset Friday night, Henderson likely will have to a big showing against a Male defense that is allowing just 48.9 rushing yards per game.
“Male is definitely going to be our hardest challenge, but every defense has flaws,” said Henderson, a 5-foot-9 165-pounder. “I’ve seen a couple. … As long as we all come together and make sure we execute all of our blocks and what we have to do with our routes and techniques, I feel we’ll come out with the ‘W.’”
Manual entered the season with three talented backs in Henderson, senior Reece West and junior Andre Teague. But West (season-ending knee injury) and Teague (ankle injury) both have been sidelined off and on this season, opening the door for Henderson.
Crimsons coach Oliver Lucas said Henderson, who is the fastest of the three backs, has relished the role.
“As a freshman we saw flashes of him being a prime-time player,” Lucas said. “As the lights get brighter, he performs better. He’s not fazed by the big-time moments.”
Henderson has led the Crimsons in rushing in six of eight games and posted 753 yards and six touchdowns on 101 attempts (7.5 yards per carry). He posted career highs for carries (26) and yards (157) in last week’s 24-21 overtime victory at Pleasure Ridge Park.
“It’s my turn to step up,” Henderson said. “I made sure to tell (West and Teague), ‘You don’t have anything to worry about.’”
Henderson said he comes from a family full of football players. Most notable is his uncle Jerome Henderson, who played defensive back in the NFL for eight seasons (1991-98) with the Patriots, Bills, Eagles and Jets.
Lucas said Henderson’s greatest strength is his vision, which Troy said is the result of God-given talent and years of watching film with his team and his father.
“I’m able to read what’s about to happen before the defense sets up,” Henderson said. “You can tell by the way the linebackers are shifting or the ends are shifting whether they’re going to go inside or outside.”
Henderson will face a Male squad that posted a 27-24 victory at St. Xavier last week, a game that saw the Bulldogs commit five turnovers.
Coach Chris Wolfe said senior wide receiver Keion Wakefield, a University of Louisville commit, is questionable after suffering a twisted ankle in the St. X game. Wakefield has been limited by ankle injuries all season and has just seven catches for 131 yards and two touchdowns.
“He’ll be a game-time decision,” Wolfe said. “If he can go, we’ll definitely put him out there.”
Lucas said he’s found no weaknesses with the Bulldogs, comparing them favorably to the talent-rich Trinity squads that won three straight state titles from 2010-12.
“When I look at those great Trinity teams from a few years ago, this Male team is better,” Lucas said. “They have more weapons. They have guys at every position that can strike you, as well as the offensive line. … We’ll have to play our best game to beat them.”
Jason Frakes can be reached at (502) 582-4046 and [email protected]
GAME OF THE WEEK
* Who: Male (8-0) at Manual (7-1).
* When: 7:30 p.m.
* Jason’s pick: Male 27-10.