Earlier this year, former NFL great Keith Jackson -- the greatest tight end to hail from Little Rock in the 1980s -- spent time with Hunter Henry helping him become the greatest tight end to hail from Little Rock this decade. "We got together, I think two or three times in the off season," Henry told reporters earlier this month. "He really helped me out with a lot of my route running, with a lot of technique and really just kind of helping me with a look at studying film and doing different things like that."
The training worked. By season's end, Henry had achieved first-team All American honors, just as Jackson did at Oklahoma. Hunter may very well end up as a future NFL All-Pro, too.
It's rare, but not unheard of, for a city of less than 200,000 people to produce two elite tight ends in the course of 35 years. Torrance, Calif., for instance, produced Tony Gonzalez and Daniel Graham. What is far more rare -- indeed unprecedented -- is for a city to produce four elite tight ends in the same span of time.
In the last five years alone, Little Rock has been home to two winners of the award for the nation's best collegiate tight end and one of the NFL's highest-paid players at the position. That would be Henry, fellow Razorback D.J. Williams and Buffalo Bill Charles Clay, the fourth-highest paid tight end in the pros.
I originally crowned Little Rock as the world's per capita tight end capital (an admittedly ironic title, given the city's infamously high gelatinous body quotient). But as I researched the issue further, I now believe the city stands alone on top regardless of competitors' size.
The proof is partially in the spreadsheet pudding below. I've compiled a list of the best NFL tight ends and best* college tight ends since the early 1970s:
HOMETOWNS OF THE BEST TIGHT ENDS IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL AND THE NFL
*first team All Americans and John Mackey Award winners, according to sports-reference.com.
The above image is only part of a larger picture. If you ache for the visual corroboration only a full 89-player list can deliver, go here, scroll down and fully submit to the data onslaught. Or just trust me -- on that list, you won't find another municipality mentioned at least three times as Little Rock is (D.J. Williams was born in Fort Worth, Texas but moved to Little Rock as a child).
My dear hometown may catch a lot of flak for some very real, very persistent socioeconomic problems, but here's one sector for which it deserves a celebratory slap on the backside.
For more detailed looks at Henry, Jackson and Williams, as well as genetic diamond mine parallels to the city of Hope and Cleveland County, make sure to visit my original story about this at OnlyInArk.com.
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