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Chalk it up to something in the water. Or to Chaos Theory. Or, simply, the Will of God.
Whether by randomness or predestination, specific areas in Arkansas have become wellsprings of specific kinds of greatness.
Hope, of course, is known eternal as the birthplace of President Bill Clinton and Mike Huckabee. What were the chances a place with a current population of 10,000 would have produced two longtime state governors who also became presidential candidates?
Scoot a bit to the northeast, and we see a similar wonder: In Cleveland County, two iconic American entertainers among the best ever in their respective fields were born less than a dozen miles apart. That would be football coach Bear Bryant, who in the early ‘60s turned the Alabama Crimson Tide into the New York Yankees of college football, and Johnny Cash — the country music/rock ‘n roll legend whose greatness spanned genres.
Walk the (county) line straight up the middle of the state and we find yet another genetic goldmine. Because Little Rock is not only the state’s economic, medical and governmental capital, it also happens to be the tight end capital of world. No, we’re talking about anything relating to the fitness of the general population (sadly, the city ranks among the worst in the nation for that kind of thing).
We’re talking about the football position.
At least four outstanding collegiate and NFL tight ends hail from Little Rock. It appears no other city nationwide equals or surpasses this. Almost certainly, Little Rock per capita produces more elite tight ends than any metro area, according to a detailed background survey of the best college and NFL tight ends since the 1970’s.
In the last five years alone, Little Rock has produced 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. The domination began nearly three decades earlier, though, with south Little Rock native Keith Jackson…
Photo used with permission of the Green Bay Packers
High School: Little Rock Parkview High School
NFL Teams: Philadelphia, Miami, Green Bay
The most distinguished of this group, Jackson helped lead Oklahoma to a national championship and was later voted as the Sooners’ Offensive Player of the Century. He
then made the NFL’s Pro Bowl six times and helped lead the Packers to a Super Bowl victory in 1997.
High School: Central Arkansas Christian
NFL Teams: Green Bay, Jacksonville, New England, Tampa Bay, Washington
A key part of the Hogs’ offensive juggernaut which rolled to the 2011 Sugar Bowl, Williams won that season’s John Mackey Award for the nation’s most outstanding tight end. He also won a national award for college football’s most inspirational story.
As a child in Texas, Williams and his family endured physical abuse at the hands of his drug-addicted father. It got so bad shelter officials urged the family to permanently leave the state, according to Little Rock Family. A map was opened, and D.J. randomly pointed to Little Rock. They arrived with little more than their own clothes but soon found a welcoming home community.
To this day, Williams lives in Little Rock, where he totes the ball as a KARK morning show co-host.
Photo used with permission of the Buffalo Bills
High School: Little Rock Central High
NFL Teams: Miami, Buffalo
Clay is a bit of a late bloomer. Not considered a top 10 recruit in the state of Arkansas, he spent four years at Tulsa. There, he found success not only on the catching end but also on the ground as a halfback and fullback.
He broke through as one of the NFL’s best players with a highly productive 2013 campaign. Clay signed a five-year, $38 million deal with Buffalo this summer. Among tight ends, only Rob Gronkowski, Julius Thomas and Jimmy Graham have more lucrative contracts.
High School: Pulaski Academy
NFL Teams: [TBA]
At 6-5 and 253 pounds, Arkansas junior Henry is the biggest of the bunch. Over the years he’s learned to use that size to follow a similar track as Keith Jackson to become the nation’s best tight in high school, then college.
This season Henry followed in Williams’ footsteps by winning the John MacKey award and in Jackson’s footsteps by getting consensus All-American honors. Henry credits some of his success to both players. Henry told reporters Williams has “always been there. He’s been a guy that I’ve been able to go to talk about things and go to about just anything really, off the field, on the field. He’s helped me a lot.”
Henry added he also sought out Jackson’s help heading into his third season at Arkansas: “We got together, I think two or three times in the off season. 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.”
Jackson played all four years at Oklahoma and was selected in the first round of the NFL Draft. Will Henry again follow in Jackson’s footsteps, or will he go pro early? NFL insider Chris Mortensen told sportscaster Wess Moore that if Henry leaves early he wouldn’t be selected higher than the second round of the 2016 NFL Draft.
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