All Lattimore can do is hope that his knee holds up long enough for him to get remunerated for his amazing talent. The NFL is not only savage on the field. Of all the major sports, it also has the weakest safety net in terms of guaranteed money. Allowing younger athletes to play for pay wouldn’t change that, but it would let running backs avoid taking several seasons of collegiate punishment for free. And the more seasons a player accrues in the NFL, the greater his pension benefits down the line when he’ll likely need all the money he can get.
Rather than speak for the players themselves, I figured I’d see what a high school running back thought. I reached out to Altee Tenpenny of Arkansas’ North Little Rock High because he has verbally committed to Richardson’s alma mater of Alabama and is ranked highly by all the scouting services. (And it doesn’t hurt that he has a fantastic name.)
When I asked if he’d like the opportunity to turn pro right away, Tenpenny had mixed views. “I’m kinda for it,” he said. “We take a toll with all the hits, first in high school, and then in college where there will only be more wear and tear. But then in the NFL there will be grown men trying to feed their families coming after me. So I guess it’s a 50/50 proposition.”
Tenpenny wasn’t as diplomatic when I asked about those hits—I could practically hear him wince over the phone. “I got shoulder pain, back pain, I dislocated my ankle, everything hurts,” he said. Tenpenny is a 6-foot, 212-pound specimen who benches 335 and squats 505. It’s hard to imagine anyone denting him in high school, and yet the parade of injuries has already begun.
Starting next fall, he’ll be subjected to three years of rips and tears from Athens to Baton Rouge to College Station. Seems to me he should be allowed to try his luck with Atlanta, Baltimore, and Chicago, and get paid to do it.