Maybe it’s because he doesn’t run as fast as Jaylin Lucas, or make dazzling catches like Cam Camper.
Whatever the case, Josh Henderson is a little bit the forgotten man at Indiana. And that’s despite the fact that he led the team with eight touchdowns from scrimmage in 2022.
Quietly, Henderson was also Indiana’s second leading rusher (418 yards) a year ago, and their third leading receiver (274 yards).
He did all that? Maybe it’s because when it comes to Henderson’s underappreciated productivity, he’s not flashy — he’s deferential.
The Pennington, N.J. product was at it again in week two when IU blasted Indiana State 41-7 on Friday evening.
After amassing 115 yards from scrimmage and another score, running around and mainly through the Sycamores, Henderson deflected the praise.
“I’m just blessed enough to get the carries,” he said during post-game interviews. “You can throw anybody in that running back room in there and they’ll produce when the line is dominating like that.”
Henderson might not be Indiana’s best running back at any one specific task required of the position. But he’s good at everything.
Too easy for Josh Henderson! 👏
— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) September 9, 2023
That’s something offensive Walt Bell seemed to realize out loud as he started to describe one thing Henderson does really well and ended up naming three in a stream of consciousness.
“One of the things that he does bring us is he can level off runs, and finish off runs and run physical,” Bell said Monday. “The other thing is he can catch the ball well out of the backfield. Really soft hands, good pass protector. He gives us a really steady hand.”
Henderson has really stood out as a pass catcher over his first 14 games at IU after transferring in from North Carolina prior to the 2022 campaign. He’s caught 28 passes for 332 yards and four TDs during his time with the Hoosiers.
But after producing three catches for 55 yards on Friday night, the first thing out of Henderson’s mouth when asked about his pass-catching prowess was the one that got away.
“I hold my self to a high standard when it comes to catching the ball, and I’ve still got things to work on obviously,” he said in reference to a drop.
That kind of self-awareness and selflessness is something Bell has seen every day since they both arrived at IU in 2022.
“Unbelievable kid. Unbelievable worker. Smart,” Bell said. “You’re going to get his best, every single day, every single practice, every single meeting.”
When Henderson arrived at IU from UNC, it wasn’t clear he’d have a big role. After all, he had carried the ball just 41 times total in his three seasons in Chapel Hill. And he caught just three passes, and never found the end zone with the Tar Heels.
So his numbers in year one with IU were a bit of an eye opener. And at the start of fall camp, coach Tom Allen had already seen him developing further as he prepared for his fifth season of college football.
“I think Josh has really honed in on being such a strong leader in that room, the way he handles his business as a pro. He’s just such an attention-to-detail guy,” Allen said in early August of Henderson. “He’s gotten bigger, stronger, faster.”
Henderson’s physicality as a runner really popped on Friday night, and that was a continuation of an approach he flashed with regularity a year ago when he averaged 4.4 yards per carry running behind an offensive line giving him very little room to run.
A year ago Henderson was running behind Shaun Shivers, and Lucas emerged as the season progressed, so it was easy to lose track of him even as he continued to produce. This year, Lucas is being featured much more, and IU seems to have impressive depth.
“Between J-Lu, Christian (Turner), Josh and Trent Howland, we feel very good about that position,” Bell said.
This is a group that projects to split carries and roles throughout the season barring injuries. The staff is trying to weave them into a gameplan that plays to their strengths. And Bell says there are some things Henderson needs to improve on, such as having more patience in the running game.
So Henderson may never be a 30 carry a game, three down feature back at Indiana. But whatever his role, there’s a real sense that when Henderson delivers for IU like he has thus far, his results are both expected and applauded.
“To see a guy that does everything just right have great success, that’s what football is about,” Bell said.
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