Dwayne Allen’s road to Super Bowl LII began when his high school coach saw something in Allen no one else did
Wayne Inman was in his first year at Terry Sanford High School in Fayetteville, N.C., when one morning, while sitting in his office going over practice schedules, he saw a 6-foot-4, 215-pound athlete walk by his door.
“I don’t know much,” Inman said. “But there are two things I do know. I know when I see a good looking woman and I know a football player when I see one.”
That football player was former Clemson All-American and Mackey Award winner Dwayne Allen. However, at the time, there was one problem. Inman had to convince Allen he was at football player.
Allen, as he called himself, was a “Baller” and he had no interest in playing football. In high school, he developed into a pretty good basketball player at the AAU level, where he just helped his team win a national championship. He figured if he was going to do anything athletically it was going to be as a basketball player.
“I was really focused on being the best basketball player I could be,” said Allen, who will play in Super Bowl LII tonight when the New England Patriots take on the Philadelphia Eagles.
Inman did not take no for an answer. He went on to tell Allen he had what it took to be a pretty good football player. But, Allen laughed it off and said “thanks, but no thanks.”
“I told him to at least give it a chance,” Inman said. “But, he said he didn’t have any money to get a physical.”
What happened next is a moment that helped shape the course of Allen’s life.
Before he met Coach Inman, Allen had been one of those kids that always got into trouble. And it wasn’t as if Allen found trouble, he usually created it.
“I have told Dwayne this many times, ‘Dwayne, you can lead a bunch of thugs to Hell if you want to or you can lead a team to greatness and to championships if you want to,’” Inman said. “’It’s your choice because you can do whichever one you want.’
“Dwayne is a natural leader and people respond to him.”
In middle school, Allen was in and out of the principal’s office and was always sent to in-school and out-of-school suspension.
In the sixth, seventh and eighth grades, he was kicked out of school and sent to the alternative school just down the road. Most of the time he was sent before December had even set in, and he was headed that way again as a freshman in high school when, by chance, Inman saw him walk past his office door on the way to gym glass.
After Allen said he did not have any money, Inman excused himself and disappeared into his office. When he came back out he was holding a $10 bill.
“I told him not to put all his eggs into one basket,” Inman said. “I said, ‘I can look at you and tell that you are a football player. You can be a football player. Listen, there are two things I’m good at observing. One is a good looking girl and the other is a good looking football player, and you are not a good looking girl.’
“Of course that made him smile so I said, ‘Here, I’m going to give you $10. You can take this $10 and do what you want to with it or you can go get a physical. If you get a physical, I’ll see you at practice tomorrow.”
Allen was stunned.
“He told me I could use the money to go buy a bag of dope, if that’s what I wanted to do. He said I could do whatever I wanted to do with the money,” Allen recalled. “Well, I took the money and I went and got a physical. I wish I could say the rest was history, but it really did not go that way.”
No, instead Allen’s story was only beginning.
“I was thinking about maybe getting some Debbie Cakes or a couple of sodas or something like that,” Allen joked about the money. “But really, I took it home and told my mom about it. He was really the first person to go out on a limb for me. Up to that point, it was the same ol’ story. ‘Dwayne was a troublemaker. We need to get Dwayne out of here as quick as possible and that’s what a lot of schools did.
“He went out on a limb, and he showed interest. That’s what mattered the most to me. I told my mom that maybe I should give it a try and she sent me to go get a physical.”
Allen showed up at practice that next afternoon and then went to practice the rest of the week. Though the season had already started, Inman found a roster spot for him on his junior varsity squad where Allen immediately excelled as a tight end on offense and as a defensive end on defense.
“Dwayne is so smart. He is one of the smartest people I know, and I don’t mean just on the football field,” Inman said. “He is extremely intelligent. He does have a high football IQ and his instincts are natural. It did not take him long to fit in.”
And though things were going well on the football field, the classroom was another story. Allen had a lot of anger problems and behavioral issues and a lot of times those very things got him kicked out of class.
One afternoon, Inman’s good friend and Terry Sanford’s Assistant Principal and Athletic Director, John Gibbs, approached Inman about Allen’s attitude.
“John was a good friend of mine and he was straight forward,” Inman said. “He told me Dwayne had nineteen referrals from the teachers to send him back to the alternative school. He said they should have sent him a long time ago and they did not know why they allowed him to stay as long as they did.
“But, I asked John not to do that. I knew there was something different about Dwayne and that we could really help him strive to get where he needed to be. We had gotten to Dwayne. However, if he had to leave school, again, I knew we might never see him again. He probably would not have ever come back.”
Inman asked Gibbs to give him one more shot, which Gibbs agreed to.
“John was a man of his word. He gave Dwayne another shot, but I knew if Dwayne got in trouble again, he was gone so at that point I went to the teachers and anyone else that I could think of and I asked them to let me know if Dwayne started to cause problems and I would go in there and straighten him up,” Inman said.
When Inman played for former Auburn head coach Pat Dye, he remembers his old coach telling his coaches, “You never give up on talent. You never give up on kids that have ability and you always continue to work with young men as long as they continue to respond to you.”
“These kids today, there are some that go home to a mom and dad and to a regular all-America home. Then you have kids that don’t,” Inman said. “You need to know that and you need to embrace these kids. Coach Dye told me this, and I have always lived up to it. ‘You can coach a kid as hard as you love him. As long as they know you love them, they will respond to you and do anything you ask.’
“Dwayne is a perfect example of that. He knows that I love him, not only as a football player, but as a person. Because of that, he trusted me and he trusted what I told him and he did what I asked him to do.”
Inman started to show Allen he cared when he went into his classrooms and made sure Allen behaved, was alert and participated in class. The high school football coach was determined to set his young star straight.
“Teachers found out he played football for me, and when he started to act out, the kids in the class room would tell the teacher you need to call Coach Inman. Then he would ask them not to do that. So when they saw that, of course they started to call me,” Inman said.
During science class his freshman year, Allen would lay his head on his desk and go to sleep. Well, the teacher got fed up with his sleeping and not participating so she called Inman, who would come in, sit right beside Allen and tell him to get his head up.
“He would roll his eyes and try to lay his head down, and I would tell him again, ‘Get your head up. You are not going to sleep in here. I’m not going to allow it. If you do, she is going to call me back and I will stay with you and make sure you do the right things.’
“After doing that a couple of times, all she had to do was threaten she was calling me and he would get his head up.”
Allen picked his head up and started participating. All of sudden that participation turned into studying and that turned into good grades, and then that turned into a serious interest for college.
“God sent Coach Inman to Dwayne,” Olivia Davis said. “He was an angel. He was sent by God to my son. What shocked me is that he responded to a man and what really shocked me was that he responded to a white man.
“There was something about Coach Inman that got to him. He inspired him. He responded to him.”
Inman claims it was more Allen wanting to change than anything he did. Regardless, the two became close. Allen, who does not have a relationship with his biological father, says Inman is his Dad. He even calls him Pops.
“That’s when I started becoming a great student in the class room,” Allen said. “I was always smart, but it just wasn’t important to me. He was able to show me and relay to me the importance of academics.”
Inman likes to claim Allen as his youngest son, and proudly shows off pictures of him to anyone who will ask.
“I talked to him like a dad, not a student,” Inman said. “I treat him like he is one of my own. I will lecture him and I will punish him just like I do my own kids.”
There were a couple of examples of when Inman used his fatherly ways to teach Allen lessons. The first came during a football game when Allen went back to the huddle and hit his quarterback—Richard Royal—upside the head for throwing a bad pass.
“That’s not something I’m proud of,” Allen said. “That is something I would never think of doing now, but that was a different Dwayne Allen then. I was only concerned with Dwayne and I still had some growing up to do.”
Allen’s action caused a brawl with his teammates on the offensive line, and that ended with Inman grabbing both Allen and Royal and getting them to know they had to get along.
“I told them that they could be as good as any tandem in the state,” Inman said. “I told them, ‘They could be real special if you get on the same page and play together.’”
But Inman was not done there. He made Allen apologize to his quarterback, which Allen first objected to.
“I told him he wasn’t just going to apologize to Richard, but he was going to apologize to this football team. He rolled his eyes back and said, ‘No, I’m not going to do that.’ I said, ‘Yes you are. You are going to do it,’” Inman remembers. “He still said he was not going to it so I said, ‘I will tell you what Dwayne. Either you are going to that or you are going to take my uniform off right now and walk out of here in your underwear. And we will cut our ties. As long as you are associated with me, you are going to do the right thing. I demand it.’
“He looked at me and thought for a second and said, ‘Okay, I’ll do it.’”
And he did. From that point on, Allen became one of the best players Terry Sanford High School has ever had. He went on to catch 68 receptions for 1,257 yards in his career, including 551 yards on 25 catches as a junior. His senior year, he hauled in 27 catches for 251 yards, but he scored five touchdowns.
Allen was on his way. He was ranked as the No. 83 best player in the country by ESPN.com and the No. 3 tight end overall. Georgia, Florida State, North Carolina and Virginia Tech were all vying for his services, and of course Clemson was too.
It came down to Clemson and Georgia in the end, and during a formal press conference a week before signing day, Allen picked Georgia as the school he was going to play college football. But, was Georgia really where he wanted to go?
“When I came to Clemson, I fell in love with it,” Allen said. “In recruiting, people try to knock Clemson for being small and there is nothing there, but they are wrong. We have the “Valley.” When you are focused on football and being a champion, that is all you need. That’s all I needed. I did not need a hundred bars or whatever it is that Athens has downtown. I did not need the 12-to-1 girl-to-guy ratio that Florida State has.
“I did not need all of that. All I needed was the Valley.”
This is where Allen had a dilemma. See Inman’s son, Daniel, was a four-year starter at Georgia along the offensive line. He had taken Allen to a few Georgia games, and he thought Inman wanted him to go to Georgia.
“The hard part for me was that I had to tell Coach Inman, my Dad, that I did not want to go to Georgia,” Allen said. “That’s what I was so afraid of. I could not tell him that I wasn’t going to Georgia.”
After the press conference, Allen turned his phone off and would not talk to anyone. He only talked to his mom, and then the night before signing day he told his mom he did not want to go to Georgia.
“She said, ‘Baby, go.’ I asked her about Coach, and she said, ‘Coach will love you know matter what. Don’t worry about Coach. Don’t make this decision for me or for Coach, but make this decision for you, be a man,’” Allen recalled of the conversation.
Allen stayed up until midnight writing different stuff for a speech he was going to give. He talked about the highs and lows of recruiting and the important people in his life that helped him.
The morning before he said where he intended to go school, Allen walked into Inman’s office, the same place where it all began four years earlier and told him he had changed his mind and was going to sign with Clemson. Inman had no issue with Allen’s decision, but he did have one request.
“I wanted him to call Coach (Mark) Richt and tell him personally,” Inman said.
It was another lesson that Inman wanted Allen to learn from.
“He was becoming a man. I let him know it was okay for him to change his mind and I would support him at Clemson just as would at Georgia or anywhere else,” Inman said. “But he needed to be the one to tell Coach Richt and he needed to tell Coach Richt before he told anyone else.”
So he did
Allen’s story from the time he got to Clemson has been told several times. Though he had come a long way from the young man who had behavioral issues and the “I don’t care” attitude, he still had some growing up to do.
After being redshirted his freshman year of 2008, he came into the 2009 season looking to overtake Michael Palmer’s position as the starting tight end. When he could not do that, he got frustrated and spouted off to the media about playing time and other sorts of things.
Inman knew Clemson was going to tear Allen down when he got to school and build him back up again. He understands how it works. But, he also knows Allen, and he warned former Clemson assistant Chris Rumph, Allen’s recruiting coach, and the other coaches that they needed to be careful with Allen.
“I told them he requires a lot of love. I let them know that they are going to have to love him,” Inman said. “I let them know that if they called him out in front of everybody, or tried to make an example out of him in front of everybody, he will tell you what he thinks and he will throw all his stuff off and walk off the field.
“You got to love Dwayne. You have to put your arm around him and let him know you love him. He has to know he can trust you. I was afraid that if they broke Dwayne down, that Dwayne was going to walk away and that is what scared me.”
But Allen did not. Instead, he saw that if he wanted to play more he had to understand why he wasn’t playing. When he sat back and finally watched Palmer, he could see why. Palmer wasn’t the fastest or the most talented guy to play tight end, but he was smart.
Allen noticed how hard Palmer worked, how he studied and how he did the little things to get an edge on his opponents.
“Mike worked hard,” Allen said. “He wasn’t playing in front of me because he was a better athlete or was faster or had better hands than me. No Mike was playing because he was a better football player than me. Mike could do everything.
“He may not have been the best at one thing, but he could do everything. That’s why the coaches liked Mike. They trusted him. I finally saw it and that’s when I realized I needed to put in the same time and effort that Mike did. I realized it was not Mike that was the problem, but it was me.”
From that point on, which was about the midway part of the 2009 season, Allen followed Palmer’s lead and in doing so he became a better player and a better teammate.
“Dwayne has all the talent in the world,” Palmer said. “I knew when I left, he was going to break every record that I set and when his Clemson career was done here, he was going to be the best tight end Clemson has ever had.”
Allen proved Palmer to be right. Thanks to his natural abilities as an athlete, the lessons he learned from Inman and learning how to play the tight end position the correct way from Palmer, Allen became a Consensus All-American in 2011 and won the John Mackey Award as the nation’s best tight end.
In helping lead the Tigers to their first ACC Championship in 20 years that year, Allen, at the time, established single-season records for a tight end at Clemson in receptions (48), yards (577) and touchdowns (8).
All the struggles, the hard work and the dedication paid off when he caught two touchdown passes in the Tigers’ 38-10 victory over Virginia Tech in the ACC Championship game. Then five days later, he was named the recipient of the 2011 John Mackey Award.
In April of 2012, Allen was selected by the Indianapolis Colts in the third round (64th overall pick) of the NFL Draft. He played five seasons with the Colts before being traded to New England last spring. Now, Allen is playing in the biggest one-day sporting event in the world … Super Bowl LII.
“That was the best $10 I ever spent,” Inman said.