By Bill Coats
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Monday, Sep. 01 2008
In December 1987, the top high school football players in the St. Louis area
gathered for the annual Post-Dispatch All-Metro team photo. As the quarterback,
Vianney's Trent Green was at the center of the spotlight. As the punter and
kicker, Alton Marquette's Craig Hentrich was pretty much ignored.

"What an easy job," one observer barked snidely at Hentrich. "You've got it
tough."

More than two decades later, however, Hentrich is drawing an NFL payback as the
Tennessee Titans' punter. Although Green no longer is the center of attention,
he's still plying his trade as the Rams' backup quarterback.

Both are entering their 15th NFL seasons. Only 10 players among the nearly
2,000 currently in the league boast longer tenures.

"I was just happy to get one year in, let alone 15," said Green, 38.

Hentrich, 37, added, "I've been very fortunate."

The only St. Louis-area product to cobble together a longer NFL career is
kicker Pat Leahy (Augustinian High), who turned in 18 seasons (1974-91).
Linebacker Kevin Greene (Granite City South) had a 15-year career (1985-99).
Center Ken Iman (Beaumont High) also played 15 years (1960-74).

Green (Indiana University) and Hentrich (Notre Dame) were eighth-round draft
choices in 1993. Hentrich went to the New York Jets with the 200th overall
pick, and Green was taken by San Diego at No. 222.

Neither played a down for the team that drafted him. Hentrich was released
during his first training camp and signed with Green Bay. Green was the
Chargers' No. 3 quarterback his rookie season, then was out of the NFL in 1994.

Hentrich became the Packers' punter in '94. In the 1995 season opener, the
Packers took on the brand-new "St. Louis" Rams in Green Bay. Hentrich became a
key figure in the Rams' 17-14 victory.

Late in the first half of a scoreless game, Isaac Bruce blocked a Hentrich
punt. Bruce "actually didn't block the punt; he blocked my drop," Hentrich
said. "He swatted (the ball) away, and I kicked him in the forearm. That's how
fast he was in there. …

"I think I've had two or three punts blocked in my career. That one's haunted
me."

Hentrich spent four years in Green Bay, picking up a Super Bowl championship
ring after the '96 season. The Titans signed him as a free agent in 1998, when
he earned the first of his two Pro Bowl berths.

Green signed with Washington in 1995, again as the No. 3 quarterback. He saw
his first regular-season action in '97 — he threw one pass, which was
incomplete.

The next year, he became the Redskins' starter. He stayed in Washington four
years, came home for two seasons with the Rams, then six years with Kansas City
— where he was a two-time Pro Bowler — and one in Miami before returning to St.
Louis this year as a free agent.

Rams coach Dick Vermeil brought Green to St. Louis in 1999 to succeed Tony
Banks as his starting quarterback. That plan blew up when Chargers safety
Rodney Harrison plowed into Green's left knee in the third preseason game. The
blow ended Green's season and made a starter out of little-known Kurt Warner.

Green was rehabbing his knee when he learned some tips that he credits with
lengthening his career. He was working with Dr. James Andrews, a renowned
orthopedist, in Birmingham, Ala., when he spied Braves pitcher John Smoltz, who
was recuperating from an elbow injury.

"I watched his rehab a lot, and I started asking a lot of questions," Green
recalled. "… As I was grinding away on my knee, I was paying attention to what
Andrews' guys were doing from a baseball standpoint to help their arms out.

"So I've had (an arm-conditioning) program in place since the late '90s that
I've tried to maintain."

The 6-foot-3, 208-pound Green still can put plenty of zip on the ball, but he
conceded that "it takes a little more time to warm up."

Of course, Hentrich, 6-3 and 215, doesn't take nearly as many hits as Green,
who also suffered season-ending concussions in 2006 and '07. Last year,
Hentrich sat out one game because of a back injury. He never had been sidelined
before, a string of 210 games. Hentrich literally knocked on the side of his
wooden locker at the Titans' practice facility when he reported that his right
leg never has failed him.

"You kind of adjust as you go along," he said. "My technique is so much
different from when I started. You just learn where your aches and pains are,
and kind of protect them in different ways."

Green acknowledged that his aches and pains linger longer after the season now,
and he accommodates them respectfully. "I'll take anywhere from four to six
weeks off," he said. "And then I start back up."

How much longer they'll want to keep starting back up is a question that
neither player could answer with any certainty, at least at this stage of Year
15. "But I'll know when the time is right," Hentrich said. "My body will tell
me that."