As if De’Angelo Henderson needed further proof that his physical makeover was complete and successful, the milkshake provided a messy indication.
Coastal Carolina’s standout running back cut out sweets and fried food in recent months, eating leaner and more organically. He permits himself a soda on Sundays and recently indulged in a milkshake that came up almost as quickly as it went down.
“My body’s not used to it any more,” he said. “I couldn’t keep it down.”
That episode aside, Henderson usually elicits nausea and headaches among opponents as one of the nation’s top running backs. He and veteran quarterback Alex Ross are the offensive focal points as Coastal Carolina (7-0, 2-0 Big South), No. 1-ranked in the FCS Coaches’ Poll and No. 2 in the STATS FCS Top 25, prepares for Saturday’s test at conference and regional rival Charleston Southern (6-1, 3-0), ranked 19th in the STATS poll and 24th in the Coaches’ poll.
“We’re getting everybody’s best game,” Henderson said. “We have to be prepared for that because everybody gives us their best shot.”
Henderson, a 5-8, 200-pound blend of quickness and power, leads the Big South in rushing (849) and all-purpose yardage (159.4) per game. In the middle of his junior year, the young man known as “Hop” is already the Chanticleers’ career leading rusher (2,982). Last week versus Monmouth, he set an FCS record when he scored a touchdown in his 21st consecutive game.
The records are nice, he said, but he and the team look for more, particularly after FCS playoff runs ended in the quarterfinals each of the past two years.
“We learned we can compete with those teams,” Henderson said. “It’s not a matter of whether or not we can compete at that level, now it’s doing the little things that allow us to compete for a championship. If we execute and we can finish, we’ll put ourselves in a position to win those games.”
Henderson does his part, whether it’s a nutrition makeover or extra work on and off the field. He worked with a personal trainer last summer, lowering his 40-yard dash time to 4.40 seconds. He squatted 550 pounds five reps during a weight training session. He believes that he could have done more — weight or reps — but the coaches shut him down.
“He works hard at the little things,” CCU running backs coach Bill Durkin said. “He always asks, ‘What do I need to do to get better?’ He watches as much film as any kid on the team. He knows what’s happening out there. He studies the game and his opponents. What he does on Saturday is a reflection of the work he puts in during the week.”
Henderson’s nickname originated early at Summerville (S.C.) High School, when he returned to the field one week after a high ankle sprain that should have kept him sidelined far longer. He bounced around and an assistant coach dubbed him “Hop.” The name stuck. Durkin thinks it applies to his running style, as well.
“He makes these jump cuts that you can’t teach,” Durkin said. “He gets his feet on the ground, then off the ground, then back on the ground, extremely quickly. I’ve never seen anything quite like it.”
Charleston Southern presents a stiff challenge for the Chanticleers. CSU leads the Big South in every major defensive category and ranks in the top 10 in all of FCS. The Buccaneers lead the NCAA in total defense (218.1 ypg), are fifth in scoring defense (14.1 ppg), third in pass defense (119 ypg), 10th in rushing defense (99.1 ypg) and eighth in third-down conversion defense (29 percent).
“They’ve got guys that swarm to the ball,” Henderson said. “They have talented guys and good athletes, and they have a system that takes advantage of their ability. We know they’re going to come after us, but we’re excited. We know we have a good team and we’ll be ready. We’ll line up and see what happens on Saturday night.”