NORTH LITTLE ROCK — OK with Altee Tenpenny’s choice of schools or not, appreciate his steadfast loyalty.
At 18, the North Little Rock running back has been the target of a long-running, full-court press. Razorback coaches recently swarmed his school and his home; current and future Razorbacks have wooed him. He’s in class all week with his peers, most of whom will remain in state, and fans begged and badgered him on social media.
He made a pledge to Alabama more than a year ago and followed through on Wednesday, signing a piece of paper. For many athletes, "verbal" weakens the word commitment.
Not only did Tenpenny stay true to this promise, he did it as part of a straightforward celebration in the high school gym, thankfully avoiding the recruiting hat dance that is, in fact, old hat. At a table for seven athletes, he was No. 4, and coach Brad Bolding briefly introduced each of them, spending only seconds more on Tenpenny than his teammates signing with lesser schools.
One of the premier running backs in the country more than made up for the lack of drama in North Little Rock when he failed to show for a morning ceremony to sign with Arkansas. Alex Collins of the Miami area went on television Monday evening to announce that he had picked the Razorbacks over Miami, a pledge that helped Arkansas fans deal with the loss of Tenpenny, who tweeted his "100 percent" commitment to Alabama hours earlier.
As of late Wednesday afternoon, Collins’ status remained uncertain.
Tenpenny embraced the difference in the situation between playing in Tuscaloosa and Fayetteville.
At Alabama, Tenpenny must get in line behind T.J. Yeldon. At Arkansas, where Jonathan Williams is the only running back with much experience, a newcomer could start against Louisiana-Lafayette in the season opener on Aug. 31.
At Alabama, running backs share the load – that’s Nick Saban’s way with Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson; Richardson and Eddie Lacy; Lacy and Yeldon.
At Arkansas, the starter might get 30 carries per game. – Bret Bielema’s M.O. when Montee Ball was at Wisconsin.
A few minutes prior to the staged signing, Tenpenny was asked about his attraction to Alabama and immediately referenced the two-back system. He described it as "intriguing," and mentioned how sharing the load would prolong the career of a running back. He also noted that one Alabama back (Ingram) had won the Heisman Trophy and that another (Richardson) was the Doak Walker Award winner.
His thinking dovetails with a Nick Saban remark in a recent Sports Illustrated article in which the Alabama coach said he had told every back that he has recruited that his goal is to get max production from minimum carries.
"The shelf life of a running back is the shortest of any position in the NFL," Saban said.
Ingram carried 271 times when he won the Heisman in 2009; Richardson had 283 carries when he was recognized as the best running back in the country in 2011. By comparison, Ball had 356 carries last year at Wisconsin. Getting hit on 70 or 80 additional plays per season adds up.
Spiffy in a black sleeveless sweater, wine dress shirt, and white tie, Tenpenny said he was able to ignore the pleas from pro-Razorback people by focusing on what was best for him and his family.
At Alabama, Tenpenny will compete immediately with 6-foot-3, 243-pound Derrick Henry, who enrolled this month.
Derek Tenpenny said Tuesday that he knew a year ago that his son was ’Bama-bound when he asked him about the possibility that he would be redshirted by the Crimson Tide.
"He said he didn’t mind," his dad said. "I knew then he understood the bigger picture."
Although an Arkansas native, the signature of a high school athlete is not going to change my life. Hopefully, that is a majority opinion.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.