We here at Deadspin have written numerous times about how dominant Tennessee Titans halfback Derrick Henry was in high school. He was a football boogeyman, the type of guy coaches would tell their players about as a scary story when sitting around the campfire. He put up video game numbers every week. Clearly, it would be a few decades before anyone in Florida would match Henry’s accomplishments, such as his single-game rushing record of 502 yards. Well, not only did we only have to wait less than a decade, but it’s being done by a player with only one hand.
Kayleb Wagner is a halfback for Baker High School in Florida. Over the weekend, Wagner helped carry his team to a victory over South Walton by recording — let me just make sure I have this right — 535 rushing yards on just 25 carries and six touchdowns! This man ran the length of over five football fields in one game. Logic dictates that this contest got out of hand early. How else could one player dominate so much? You’d think that Baker High School trounced South Walton from the get-go, but in reality, this game ended with Baker winning by a final score of 49-48. That actually makes a lot of sense. If it’s close, not only would you keep your best players in for the entirety of the game, but you’d want to feed them as much as possible, and boy did Baker’s head coach, Matt Brunson, need to feed Wagner as much as possible.
While this would be an incredible feat for anyone to accomplish, Wagner did so with only one hand. You’d expect someone who breaks Derrick Henry’s record to run similarly to Derrick Henry. However, Wagner couldn’t be more different. He can’t use his off-hand to stiff arm defenders into the dirt. Wagner has to be a little more subtle with how he leaves his opponents in the dust. Where Henry would bust through opposing defenses with sheer size and strength as his biggest competitive advantage, Wagner seems to rely much more on elusiveness and speed. Just take a look at his game film from that 535-yard performance.
At no point does Wagner ever bulldoze through one of his defenders. He simply finds holes that the defense gives him and busts into the open field with a burst of speed no one can match. His vision and patience as a ball carrier is impeccable. Now, compare that to Derrick Henry’s high school tape…
On literally the first run of Henry’s tape, he trucks the last defender before waltzing in for a touchdown, and there are several other runs from his highlight reel where Henry just shrugs off tackler after tackler like they’re nothing. Obviously, Wagner and Henry run with very different styles.
Henry was a good sport about his record being broken, even reaching out to Wagner on Instagram to congratulate him on his accomplishment.
“We went back and forth for about five minutes,” Wagner told MaxPreps. “He congratulated me, said he would send me a pair of his cleats and game gloves. It was very, very cool. I think it really hit me then that I had the record.”
Wagner could have broken the state record a week earlier, as ran for 267 yards on four carries — that’s an average of 66.8 yards — in the first half of his team’s 49-13 win over Bayou Christian. But with his team up by over 40 points at the break, Brunson decided it best to give his star player a break for the second half.
After breaking the record, Wagner accredited all of his success to his offensive line, thus solidifying Wagner’s case for being a solid dude. The more I read about Wagner, the more I want to root for this guy. He’s not the first player we’ve seen to dominate opponents without one of his hands. In fact, his genetic condition, amniotic band syndrome, is something he shares with Miami Dolphins linebacker, and fellow Florida high school product, Shaquem Griffin. However, Wagner has never viewed the lack of a left hand as a disability.
“It’s what I’ve always known,” he said.
This is a man who doesn’t make excuses and sets goals for himself that others would consider unreachable. He’s dead set on bettering himself, and making sure everyone around him gets the credit they deserve. You can’t help but root for this guy, and I can’t wait to see him at the next level.