ENGSTER: 2016 signing class is a tribute to Frank Wilson

President, Tiger Rag Magazine

The current recruiting bonanza for LSU football is a tribute to the man who departed TigerTown last month to become head coach at Texas-San Antonio. The seeds of the harvest were planted by Frank Wilson. This class is a reflection of his skill and determination. Wilson leaves LSU with the cupboard full and ranks as perhaps the greatest salesman to have worked in Death Valley.At press time, LSU has 23 commitments to rank a muscular No. 1 nationally on signing day of 2016. Wilson, an African-American from New Orleans, has been instrumental in coaxing high quality black athletes from Louisiana to stay home and play for their state school. Of LSU’s 23 commitments, 22 are African-Americans with 15 of the prospects hailing from the Bayou State.

The only Caucasian signee for LSU in 2016 may be kicker Connor Culp, a 5-foot-10, 180-pounder from Phoenix.

In a state with a violent racial past, Les Miles is a trailblazer. The 62-year-old Tigers’ head coach has stocked his roster with a bevy of stellar black athletes. The Ole War Skule, which did not boast its first black varsity player in football until 1972, now features a team in which four of every five of its gridiron gladiators are black.

The Tigers have the capacity to dominate national recruiting classes year after year because of the large African-American population in Louisiana (32.5 percent). Football is accented in black communities from Lake Providence to Lake Pontchartrain, and LSU is the only school representing a major conference in Louisiana.

Alabama is a state of similar size to Louisiana. There are two SEC powers waging war for recruits in that state. Mississippi is the lone state to have a larger percentage of African-Americans than Louisiana at 37.5 percent. But the Magnolia State has 3 million residents compared to 4.6 million people in Louisiana, and Ole Miss and Mississippi State compete in the same borders.

When Nick Saban left LSU a dozen years ago, the football team was majority white. Miles’ success is tied to his exceptional recruiting ability. His work has fostered more racial harmony in Louisiana than perhaps any other deed in recent time.

A half-century ago, it would been impossible to image an overwhelmingly white fan base cheering enthusiastically for an LSU team dominated by descendants of men who were banned from dining at the same lunch counter with whites when Miles was born. Reverence for LSU football has united people of all ethnic identities. It is a testament to the coaching staff and to the fans that race is not a factor.

Altee Tenpenny (1995-2015)

Alabama’s Derrick Henry is leaving Tuscaloosa three years after his arrival with a Heisman Trophy and national championship in his grasp. Three years ago, Henry was signed by Nick Saban out of Yulee, Fla., where Henry was a huge prep standout. Everything went right for a splendid athlete. Unfortunately, a Henry cohort who entered Alabama with similar 4-star prep credentials had a three-year college tour end tragically.

The signing class of 2013 for Alabama included another running back recruited by most schools in America. A lad with the memorable name of Altee Tenpenny joined the Crimson Tide the same day that Henry inked with Alabama. Tenpenny, a star at North Little Rock (Ark.) High School, had a much different outcome at Alabama.

In two years with the Tide, Tenpenny rushed 48 times for 218 yards (4.5 yards/carry). He was outplayed by Henry, who rushed 208 times for 1,372 as a freshman and sophomore (6.6 yards/carry).

When it was apparent that Henry, not Tenpenny, would be the featured Bama back in 2015, Altee transferred to UNLV. There he was suspended for not meeting team obligations. He then enrolled at Nicholls State and was dismissed from the Colonels after being arrested for possessing a firearm and discharging a weapon. He allegedly fired a gun in the air as traffic was approaching, an infraction that usually gets a player a ticket out town.

A day after his fall from grace in Thibodaux, Tenpenny was killed on the afternoon of Oct. 20. His car veered off Mississippi Highway 1. He was driving home to North Little Rock when the accident occurred. Tenpenny apparently fell asleep at the wheel, and his Dodge Charger struck a highway sign in the town of Glenn Allan. Tenpenny’s vehicle went airborne, turned over several times and collided with a utility pole with such force that Atlee was ejected.

Tenpenny was 6-foot, 218 pounds with sprinter’s speed. He was the top player in Arkansas in 2012 and listed as one of the top five running backs nationally. A once sensational recruit primed for a brilliant career died at 20 as his former Alabama teammates were starting their march to glory. Tenpenny’s mother, Shenitta, has established a foundation in his name to educate parents about the perils of recruiting.

Louisiana quarterbacks continue to make mark in NFL

If 39-year-old New Orleans native Peyton Manning guides Denver to victory over Carolina in Super Bowl 50, it will mark the ninth time that a Louisiana born quarterback has won the Super Bowl.

Terry Bradshaw of Shreveport has four championships with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Eli Manning of New Orleans has two titles with the New York Giants, Doug Williams of Chaneyville won Super Bowl XXII with Washington and Peyton was victorious in Super Bowl XLI with Indianapolis. It is a tribute that a state with 1.4 percent of the U.S. population is positioned to be the birthplace of 18-percent of the quarterbacking winners of Super Bowls.

Jake Delhomme (Lafayette) of UL-Lafayette and Stan Humphries (Shreveport) of UL-Monroe started at quarterback in Super Bowls for Carolina and San Diego but were on the losing side as was Peyton once with the Colts and once with the Broncos.

Former ULM signal caller Doug Pederson played a dozen years in the NFL before retiring in 2004. His first four years out of the league were logged as head coach at Calvary Baptist in Shreveport. Peterson left Louisiana to take a spot on the staff of Andy Reid with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2009. He followed Reid to Kansas City and served as the offensive coordinator of the Chiefs the past three years.

Pederson became the head coach of the Eagles on Jan. 19. “I understand the culture and the passion of Philadelphia,” Pederson said as he accepted leadership of a franchise which last won the NFL championship in 1960, eight years before the 48-year-old coach was born. For Pederson, it is a meteoric rise from the Louisiana prep ranks to the grand stage of the NFL in just seven years.

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Jim Engster | President, Tiger Rag

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