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Posted: June 18, 2011 4:12 p.m.

NHS' Henry a rare breed of student athlete

There's no question our society is in a time of misdirection. Consider this year's graduating class at Alcovy shrunk by roughly 20 percent in four years. In other words, 20 percent of the freshman in that class never graduated. And high school sports stars continue to fall victim to societal laziness and succumb the inherent character flaws that we see in our politicians. Let's face it, whenever you turn around, a politician or celebrity is cheating on his wife, Kanye West is spouting off about Lord only knows what or LeBron James is crying about something his latest failure. All these instances are sending the wrong message to our youth. Every once-in-a-while though, a prep star is the total package. Newton's Derrick Henry certainly fits this mold.

Derrick signed to play at Winthrop University last week after a stellar basketball career at Newton. For the past three years, Derrick was Newton basketball, all while earning a 3.9 GPA in advanced placement classes. And in the past three years, I've come to know him well. I can tell you, it wasn't always easy for him.

Two summers ago Derrick was at a crossroads. He had just finished his sophomore season and averaged 20 points per game. Despite the presence of Jamon Hawkins, Derrick was the best player on the team. When Jamon graduated, it was Derrick's team. But you could see him change.

That summer, a power struggle between head coach Rick Rasmussen and Derrick was forming. Derrick was letting his ego get the best of him. It came to a head at the Georgia College team camp when Rasmussen finally had enough and benched his star player for not listening during a timeout. You could see an attitude shift.

I spent the second half of that game on Newton's bench talking to Derrick. We talked about all sorts of stuff. But mostly I shared my experiences of having been a talented athlete with a poor attitude when I was his age and the changes I had made since. We talked the entire second half while the game was going on.

I don't know how much Derrick took out of that conversation but his burgeoning poor attitude didn't last long. He quickly got back on the same page with his coach and became the team's leader for the next two years.

That's what made him so special. When it came down to it, Derrick understood the end game. He figured out what most of us don't learn until we're in our 30s. You can struggle to conform — you can fight for what you believe in — you can be an individual, but if you aren't prepared for what comes with that, you will crash and burn.

I never understood why adults couldn't stand kids and teenagers in particular until I became an adult. So when you have the privilege to cross paths with student-athletes like Derrick and Jamon — Gary Wilkins and Beau Thomas from Alcovy or Eastside graduates Justin Wray and Jarred Hubbard, it's refreshing.

Every interview — every talk I've ever had with Derrick has always been similar in that he looks me in the face when he speaks and treats every word with thought. When I see Justin Wray a couple of times each year when he comes back to Eastside, he still shakes my hand and says yes sir, no sir. Athletic talent aside, these kids understand what it takes to be successful. And that's exactly what all of them are and will be in the future.

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