Titans' Derrick Henry relishes connection with community, giving back

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Derrick Henry stood in the backfield waiting for the ball to be snapped as the Tennessee Titans held a one-point lead over the Indianapolis Colts in the third quarter last Sunday. The Titans fans at Nissan Stadium made it clear what they wanted to see.

"HENRY! HENRY!" chants began to rain down on the field. Henry carried the ball twice for a total of five yards. But the fans went crazy both times. No other Titans player garners name chants like Henry.

"It's cool," Henry said. "They used to do that for Eddie [George]. Having that connection to the fans for them to do that and scream my name, that's always something that you dream of as a kid. To have that impact on an organization and the fan base, it's so cool for them to love you and love what you do."

Henry has a strong bond with the fans in Nashville and across the country. He was one of the last Titans players to go back to the locker room when they beat the Baltimore Ravens in the 2019 divisional playoff round. That's because he took a lap around the lower bowl of M&T Bank Stadium slapping hands with fans in attendance.

When Henry hits the open field it always warrants a roar at Nissan Stadium. The energy and excitement that is brought by the fans is something that Henry feeds off of.

Henry appreciates how the fans spend their hard-earned money to come to see the Titans play. It gives him a warm feeling.

That connection inspired Henry to help out in the community through his 'Two All Foundation" which exists to help level the playing field for disadvantaged youths.

"That's the thing that touches me the most, just seeing a kid wearing the 22 jersey because I am all about the youth," Henry said.

While some athletes scoff at the idea of being a role model for kids, Henry embraces it because he remembers when he was a youngster and looked up to Kobe Bryant.

"I take being a role model very seriously, for kids to look up to me and aspire to be like me," he said. "But I always tell kids I want them to be better than me. Whatever their aspirations are in sports or anything in life, always be better than the person you look up to. That was always my mindset."

As a kid, Henry watched his grandmother, Gladys, get up every morning and go to work at a Holiday Inn to provide for her family. That laid the foundation for Henry's relentless work ethic and humble approach.

"He has a great heart and is a great human being," Titans running backs coach Tony Dews said. "He does things to help the community and doesn't have to talk about it. That goes back to his family upbringing and the things that they instilled in him."

But it was the Boys & Girls Club that allowed him to develop a love for football and gave him a place where he could go. Henry enjoyed the afterschool activities that were in place for him to build memories with his friends.

"The first thing we used to do when we got done with our schoolwork was grab a football and go outside to play football," Henry said. "That's something that all of the boys at the Boys & Girls Club loved. Having something to do after school with the structure instead of being at home doing something we had no business doing."

Those memories are exactly why Henry has been involved with the local Boys & Girls Clubs of Middle Tennessee since joining the Titans in 2016. Henry's most recent contribution came Monday when his foundation purchased 1,500 backpacks filled with supplies for kids.

The clubs selected 25 of the most at-risk youths to be on hand when Henry presented the backpacks, and of those 25, each received a $50 gift card donated by Burlington. Henry also provided them with an additional $100 gift cards.

"Having that connection with these kids and knowing that I was once them going through that same thing, it's cool to be a part of something special for these kids," Henry said.

"There's this quiet intensity about him," Boys & Girls Clubs of Middle Tennessee CEO Eric Higgs said. "When those kids lit up, you saw his face light up as well. It's like a servant's heart. That's been his style, and I know it meant the world to the kids."