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When Larry Allen was dominating as an offensive lineman for the Dallas Cowboys in the late 1990s and early 2000s, he was regarded by many as the strongest man in football. He was an 11-time Pro Bowler and next weekend he’ll be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
In Canton, which is celebrating its 50th year of the Hall of Fame Festival, Larry will be joined by family and friends, including Larry Allen Jr., his son, who was a starting guard on last season’s team at De La Salle of Concord. Larry Jr. helped the Spartans go unbeaten and win their fourth straight CIF Open Division state bowl game. He was later named to one of the Cal-Hi Sports’ all-state underclass teams.
We were lucky enough to interview Larry Sr. shortly after the 1994 NFL Draft. It was a draft that had eight former California high school players taken in the first round. Allen was selected in the second round, 46th overall.
At the time, our Student Sports Magazine covered college football in California and Larry had emerged as a pro prospect out of tiny Sonoma State University in Rohnert Park.
We knew of his difficult childhood before making the phone call, but hearing him talk about it brought forth a deeper admiration how he was able to overcome it.
If you don’t know, Allen was born and grew up in Compton. When he was 10, he got into a fight with another neighborhood kid. To give himself an edge, young Larry grabbed a broomstick and a chain. The other boy grabbed a knife. Allen was stabbed 12 times, but lucky for him none of the wounds were that serious. If the other boy or Larry had grabbed a gun, we may have never heard of him.
Tough times continued to follow Allen and his mother. They moved frequently. He ended up attending four different high schools in four years. He began at Centennial of Compton, which was followed by a move north where he went to Tokay of Lodi, Armijo of Fairfield and Vintage of Napa.
We have counted Larry from Vintage, but he didn’t graduate from there. It was just the last high school he attended. He later obtained a high school diploma through adult school.
Despite that background, Allen continued to harbor the dream that he might one day play football. He eventually settled on Butte College in Oroville (the same California JC that helped launch quarterback Aaron Rodgers after he went to Pleasant Valley of Chico). At Butte, he showed flashes of potential, but still didn’t have the academic resume to attract too much Division I college attention.
After Oroville, Allen settled on playing at Sonoma State University (now Cal-State Sonoma) in Rohnert Park. It was there that he finally began to blossom, cut out a penchant for getting into fights and received effective guidance from Sonoma State coaches Tim Walsh, Frank Scalercio and Jeff Ramsey.
One aspect of the coaches’ working with Allen was to get their big fella to begin to write down his goals and look at them every day.
“He just needed someone to believe in him,” Scalercio said at the time.
Some of Larry’s goals were of a personal nature, such as learning how to budget money, but others were athletic, like getting an all-conference honor. The bottom goal, it was believed, could be more realistic if the others higher on the list were crossed off. That last one, of course, was to play in the NFL.
“I learned a lot (by writing down my goals),” Allen told us at the time. “It was always my dream to play in the NFL. My coaches thought it was far-fetched at first, but that was what I wanted to accomplish.”
After being chosen by the Cowboys, Allen obviously continued to work hard and wasn’t satisfied by just playing in the NFL. He kept getting bigger, stronger and more refined. For most of his career, he was 6-3, 325 pounds.
This is a player who in high school had no stars and no recognition whatsoever. He didn’t go to USC, Alabama or anywhere even close and only began to get noticed until his senior year at a college that doesn’t even have a football team anymore.
“NFL clubs will find you wherever you are,” Allen told us in 1994. “You just have to work hard and set goals. And you have to think about your goals every day.”
If Larry Allen’s story from the streets of Compton to the celebration this weekend in Canton doesn’t inspire you, then good luck finding one better about anybody else in California football history.
PRO FOOTBALL HALL OF FAMERS
(Listed in order of year inducted)
1963 – Ernie Nevers, RB (Santa Rosa)
1965 – Bob Waterfield, QB (Van Nuys)
1969 – Joe Perry, RB (Los Angeles Jordan)
1970 – Tom Fears, WR (Los Angeles Manual Arts)
1970 – Hugh McElhenny, RB (Los Angeles Washington)
1971 – Norm Van Brocklin, QB (Lafayette Acalanes)
1972 – Gino Marchetti, DE (Antioch)
1982 – Ollie Matson, RB (San Francisco Washington)
1977 – Frank Gifford, RB (Bakersfield)
1979 – Ron Mix, OT (Hawthorne)
1985 – O.J. Simpson, RB (San Francisco Galileo)
1985 – Pete Rozelle, Commissioner (Compton)
1987 – John Henry Johnson, RB (Pittsburg)
1990 – Bob St. Clair, OT (San Francisco Poly)
1991 – Tex Schramm, Administrator (Alhambra)
1993 – Dan Fouts, QB (San Francisco St. Ignatius)
1993 – Bill Walsh, Coach (L.A. Washington & Hayward)
1994 – Jimmy Johnson, DB (Kingsburg)
1995 – Joe Gibbs, Coach (Santa Fe Springs Santa Fe)
1997 – Mike Haynes, DB (Los Angeles Marshall)
1997 – Anthony Munoz, OT (Ontario Chaffey)
2000 – Ronnie Lott, DB (Rialto Eisenhower)
2001 – Lynn Swann, WR (San Mateo Serra)
2001 – Ron Yary, OT (Bellflower)
2003 – Marcus Allen, RB (San Diego Lincoln)
2003 – James Lofton, WR (Los Angeles Washington)
2004 – John Elway, QB (Granada Hills)
2006 – John Madden, Coach (Daly City Jefferson)
2006 – Warren Moon, QB (Los Angeles Hamilton)
2007 – Bruce Matthews, OL (Arcadia)
2008 – Gary Zimmerman, OT (Walnut)
2011 – Les Richter, LB (Fresno)
2013 – Larry Allen, OL (Napa Vintage last school attended)*
*Scheduled for induction on Saturday, August 3.
SONS OF PRO FOOTBALL HALL OF FAMERS
WHO HAVE PLAYED FOR CALIFORNIA HIGH SCHOOLS
(Please let us know if we’ve missed anyone; most of these were players we actually saw in a game or at the Nike camp)
Larry Allen Jr. (De La Salle, Concord) OL*
Matt Butkus (Loyola, Los Angeles) OL
Daniel Lofton (Westview, San Diego) WR
Isaiah Lott (St. Francis, Mountain View) DB
Nate Montana (De La Salle, Concord) QB
Nick Montana (Oaks Christian, Westlake Village) QB
Ryan Nece (Pacific, San Bernardino) DB**
Jerry Rice Jr. (Menlo School, Atherton) WR
Matt Singletary (Valley Christian, San Jose) OL
Matthew Slater (Servite, Anaheim) WR
Kellen Winslow Jr. (Patrick Henry, San Diego) DE
*Larry’s dad scheduled for induction on Saturday, August 3.
**Ryan is another son of Ronnie Lott’s.