Altee Tenpenny’s gone to Alabama – signed, yet to be sealed and likely to deliver (if he beats out 16 other blue chip running backs who will soon turn the Crimson Tide practice field into The Hunger Games’ arena).
Most Razorback fans had already reconciled themselves to this fact. Tenpenny wasn’t exactly coy in confirming and reconfirming his commitment to Alabama multiple times this past year. Still, in recent months, there was an awful lot of caring poured out on the young man from North Little Rock. Fans believed he could have been a native son savior in the mold of Madre Hill, Cedric Cobbs or Darren McFadden.
Now that he’s off to follow in the footsteps of Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson, to what extent will Arkansas football fans – who’d invested so much emotion in Tenpenny – sever ties with him?
There’s an array of opinions expressed on the message board Hogville.net.
Some fans will still try to tune in to watch Tenpenny next season (or whenever he gets on the field) and will root for him against all opponents except Arkansas.
Other fans won’t pay him an ounce of mind.
Count Hogville member “Hognitive Dissonance” in this camp. “I don’t root against players who go out of state,” he/she wrote. “I really don’t. I don’t root for them, either. They become total non-entities to me. I lose track of them and am really not interested in following what happens with them.”
Finally, there is that segment of the population who cannot “unfollow” Tenpenny’s Twitter account fast enough. Indeed, it’s probable were there a Twitter account titled “Unfollowing Tenpenny,” they would follow it.
“To me, if you’re from Arkansas and you have an Arkansas offer and choose to go elsewhere, you become from that place,” wrote Dogtown Donkey. “I no longer associate you with being an Arkansan. Doesn’t mean I hate you or want to see you fail, just means I don’t give a flip about you.”
I believe where Arkansans fall in this spectrum of apathy depends on a) how much they have emotionally invested into Arkansas Razorbacks athletics vs. b) how much they love the game of college football regardless of the people playing it.
I’m emotionally invested in the Hogs, and likely always will be, but I love the sport itself more. And I love the sport specifically because of great players like Tenpenny. So, even if he signed with BYU-Hawaii, I’d still make a point of watching and rooting for him next season. No matter where he ends up, I’ll still care.
No longer considering a kid as an Arkansan because he leaves the state seems extreme, but I wonder if part of the reason some fans feel this way is because Arkansas doesn’t have a major pro team. In other places, a beloved prep star may leave his state to attend college somewhere else, but the people back home know there’s a chance the native son could one day return to play for the area’s pro team.
An example is Chicago native Derrick Rose. The basketball star could have attended the University of Illinois, but instead chose the University of Memphis because he wanted a better platform for the pros. And, it just so turned out, he was able to return to Chicago and has become the most beloved Bull since Michael Jordan.
If Arkansas had pro football, fans would not be as bummed about Tenpenny’s Alabama defection. He could still return one day to play for the state’s NFL team.
There’s a chance something like this could still happen to Tenpenny.
In the next few seasons, Alabama’s running back depth will save him much wear and tear on his body (indeed, being a “low-mileage” back is a key selling point in Alabama’s recruiting philosophy). This, combined with experience gained from daily practice against Crimson Tide defense and Nick Saban’s coaching, could make Tenpenny a top-notch pro prospect three years down the line.
If he successfully uses Alabama as a platform to the pros, and the great success he finds at that next level just so happens to be with the Dallas Cowboys, something tells me Arkansans will again embrace this prodigiously talented prodigal son with wide open arms.
Evin Demirel has spent the last few months interviewing Tenpenny and his inner circle about the recruiting process. The resulting feature article published Wednesday on SBNation Longform. Follow Demirel here.