If Justin Allen's dream had followed the script he would have been recruited by Rice coming out of Cedar Park High School and been playing football here for the last two years. Growing up, the Owls had long held a special place in his heart.
That didn't happen though, so he accepted an opportunity to play football a long, long way from home at the University of Idaho.
The fact that Allen was lightly recruited is somewhat surprising. After all he was District Defensive MVP, and twice All-District in 14-5A at Cedar Park near Austin. More impressively, he was the Texas 5A Co-Defensive Player-of-the-Year as a senior, posting an amazing 166 tackles along with 8 sacks. However, he didn't attend any combines as a sophomore or junior, and at 5-11 205 didn't have ideal size to play Linebacker. As is often the case - he fell through the cracks.
Making the best of his opportunity, Allen shined at Idaho.
As a true freshman, he played in his first collegiate game against the USC Trojans. For the year he would post 17 tackles and recover a fumble playing mostly Special Teams. No shame in being a back-up either, he was playing behind future St. Louis Ram LB David Vobora.
In 2008, Allen worked himself into a starter's role at Strongside Linebacker. He responded with 68 tackles - 47 of them solos. He also had 3 tackles for a loss and a sack and 2 QB hurries; plus 1 interception and a fumble recovery.
It seemed that Allen was on his way to a successful career at Idaho. But something wasn't right. He could still hear Rice calling in the back of his mind. And he knew that it was now or never if he was going to listen to that voice.
Also Academic All-State in high school, Justin applied for Rice and was accepted. He decided to transfer back to Rice after the 2008 season. He was accepted but here the story takes a bit of a twist.
Knowing he would leave, Allen approached Idaho coaches about releasing him from his football scholarship. Surprisingly, they refused. For this reason Allen did not contact Rice coaches due to possible NCAA ramifications.
With Idaho still not relenting and time running out, Allen carried through with his plan and enrolled at Rice. Once he had attended classes at Rice he could talk to Rice coaches, but since Idaho still has not released him from his scholarship there he cannot be placed on scholarship at Rice and therefore is considered a walk-on. He is currently working out with the team but must sit out 2009 due to transfer rules.
The bottom line is Allen feels so strongly about the school he's loved for so long that he's paying his own way.
But why? What is it about this special place amongst the Live Oaks along South Main that lured a young man away from a full football scholarship and a fast track career at Idaho?
It could be that Rice is in his blood. Maybe destiny is reclaiming one of their own. In any case Justin Allen is following in the footsteps of greatness. He is perhaps a link to a time when Rice Football was king. Therein lies the answer.
You see, Justin's grandfather is a Rice Owl too. Not just any Owl, a football player from the Rice Football glory days. Mr. Allen played on the 1950 Southwest Conference Cotton Bowl Champion Team, and also on the 1949 team that was the last to win 10 games and ranked 3rd in the nation. He also finished 3rd in swimming at the SWC Championship Meet. A broken leg cut short his playing days, a career ending injury at the time.
And the ties to Rice don't end there - a member of the Allen family has attended Rice in every decade since the 1940's. His grandmother also has a PhD from Rice.
But without question, his biggest fan, and the strongest calling to the school is his grandfather. The two have a special bond. Recently, Mr. Allen has become ill and Justin felt the need more than ever to come to Houston to not only fulfill a lifelong dream, but to help take care of his ailing grandfather. Perhaps the calling Justin heard in the back of his head was Rice calling him, to take care of one of its own. Or maybe even to connect a link to the past so that the future of Rice Football never forgets.
And though Justin's got the potential and experience to help Rice Football at a position of need, there's no guarantee that will happen.
One thing I am sure of, Justin is home...