James Allen put Wynnewood on the recruiting map back in the early 1990s, running for 6,203 yards and 95 touchdowns during a marvelous high school career. He was a USA Today All-American and the No. 1 running back prospect in America, according to Parade Magazine.
Holding scholarship offers from a multitude of schools, Allen chose Oklahoma, vowing to play his part in bringing back Sooner Magic at a time when the program had stumbled.
But Allen played for three coaches during his time at OU, never really reaching the fans' — or his own — expectations. For all he did as a Sooner, ranking No. 14 on the school's all-time rushing list, his college career seems to boil down to his games, good and bad, against Texas in the Cotton Bowl. From starring as a freshman in 1993 to getting stoned by Stoney Clark at the goal line as time expired in '94 to returning as hero with an overtime touchdown in '96, the Red River Rivalry outwardly defined Allen's journey with the Sooners.
Allen made a mark in the NFL, playing for the Chicago Bears and Houston Texans, despite going undrafted. Since retiring, he has dabbled in the music industry and jumped into the sports training business, living now in Houston, where his son Hayden continues to improve from a health scare that required brain surgery.
Those days at Wynnewood were, oh, they were awesome times. I actually got online the other day and looked at some old articles. I hadn't done that in about 20 years. And I was really impressed with some of the stuff I was reading about myself and my teammates. It was like, ‘Wow, we really did that.' Those were awesome times.
Just arriving on campus (at OU) and going to practice with all the guys; the day, the actual day of getting there and Aubrey Beavers and Cale Gundy and all the media, it was like, ‘Oh my God, I'm an Oklahoma Sooner.' That was probably the proudest day of my life as a Sooner. Just sayin' to myself, ‘I'm an Oklahoma Sooner.' That was so huge.
We're kind of the era that is the forgotten group. People want to put those years behind, so we don't really get brought up in conversation. Maybe a joke about what we were going through at that particular time.
But you have to understand that as young men, we were just bouncing with the flow of things, trying to fit in with this coach and that coach. We couldn't really find a chemistry.
When I got there, we were coming off probation. We were the guys who had to get back through that and try to get it turned back around.
We were loaded with talent. I mean, you can look at that time and see how many guys went professional and you'll be amazed at that. Even at the running back position alone, when I first got to Oklahoma, I really encountered competition.
I had to get through that. I had Jerald Moore. Jeff Frazier. De'Mond Parker. These guys were just as good as me. At OU, I kind of didn't know how to deal with that. I'm coming from Wynnewood, 2,000-yard rusher. This was a whole different level.
Playing for the University of Oklahoma, it comes with a lot of pressure, but it also comes with a lot of responsibility, because of the great tradition you've got to carry.
Every single player during that era, we failed. We failed the university. We failed the fans. We failed the great state of Oklahoma, because we didn't compete on the level that we were supposed to compete on.
I think whenever Howard Schnellenberger came, that was the ultimate breaking point for us. It was brutal. It was something I had never been through. That was like the last straw. Because you had so much hope and expectation with him being our coach, but when he came in, literally we were beat down after about Game 6.
I'm not making any excuses, but you have to understand that when things break down on a higher level, it's going to come all the way down.
So you have guys in the locker room going a certain way, getting into cliques or not agreeing on who should be quarterback or who's doing what. At some point in time, we said, ‘Look, no matter who's calling the plays, no matter who the quarterback is, no matter what the media says, we've got to go out here and play and do it for us. And do it for the thousands of fans and the guys who came before us and the guys who will come after us.'
From the outside looking in, someone may look at those guys and think we couldn't get it together. But from the inside looking out, we were really just trying to find leadership and trying to find our way as young men.
We didn't have that with our coaches, with so much change going on. When you look back on it as a grown man, I think, I should have done more to be a leader, to be more vocal.
But you learn from it and you grow.
I think a lot of guys from that era, we probably come back less than any group of guys.
The 80s era, they're forever going to be fan favorites. There's nothing that any team could do to replace those years. You have Switzer, you have The Boz … You had the controversies, but you had the winning.
And then you have the guys, the 2000 kids who have really done a great job under coach Stoops. So there's a lost mix of guys from our time.
‘You remember those guys?' ‘Yeah, they sucked.'
But you've got to take the good with the bad. If you're going to wear the OU helmet, you've got to hold your head up high when they do win championships.
I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world. Those times got me to where, if I hit a hard spot in life, I had something to look back on to help me move forward.
(Getting stopped on the goal line against Texas), that's a ghost. That is a ghost right there. I ask myself, ‘Wow, what if I would have gotten in? What if …'
But then, I made thousands of plays and I came up short thousands of times in my life, I'm not going to let that nag me to death. So when I think about OU-Texas, yeah, that does always come into my mind. But then, at the end of it, I can always say, ‘You know what, I got in on the last one.'
That was perfect vindication. That was a perfect soap opera for me. You get stopped. You get denied. And you come back and have a great senior game against Texas.
When I scored the overtime touchdown, I don't care how bad we were, we don't get enough props for that OU-Texas game, because that was awesome. I mean really, that was amazing. We were 0-4, and we go in there and do that. And just the way we won it, from offense to defense to special teams … that was amazing.
If you look at it, we're the era (at OU) that's like when the ladies walk across the street and you lay down your jacket to cover up the rain puddle — we're the jacket. The whole deed was very chivalrous, but nobody paid any attention. We did what wasn't pretty.
I know that we weren't as highly publicized for our years there, but we paid our dues, too. We maybe didn't win a championship, but I feel as though I'm a part of that history and tradition. And I'll always be a Sooner, no matter what they think about my era or me.
I love OU. Out of all the schools that I could have gone to, I chose to stay home. And I'm glad that I did.
I didn't get drafted. I bounced around for a minute. But I had so much growth as a young man.
When I left OU, I felt like a huge weight was off my shoulders. There was so much pressure that was off, no one really knew who I was or what I was doing. I could just focus on football. I was just another number trying to make it.
I still had to pay some dues and deal with the NFL politics, but it worked in my favor. God blessed me and allowed me to have a great career with the Bears and the Texans. It was an underdog story, where you just come up from the bottom and you earn it.
When I got to that level, I had to go get it. Being a Sooner and going through those rough times allowed me to do it.
I love working with kids. Being a dad now, being around kids is a great outlet and a great way for us to grow as adults, too. Every kid I get to train or talk to about life, I always find that while I'm giving them a lesson, I'm learning something as well.
Kids these days, if we look at them very, very closely, they're a sounding board and a platform for us to grow as adults, as teachers, as parents, because they're going to challenge you every day.
You can't give them false enthusiasm, because they'll detect it. So it's very important to open our hearts and our minds to them. So beyond being behind them, trying to help them run and jump and do all these other things, I'm trying to give them some valuable information about life that they can carry forward.
I live in Houston. I have a son, who really needs me right now. I was planning to move from Houston back to Oklahoma, to open a training facility. It would just make sense for me to be somewhere where I have a name, humbly saying. People know me. I have friends who have kids that want to train.
Hayden needed unexpected brain surgery in October of 2012. Very traumatic. Almost life ending. That's when my life completely changed, my approach to day-to-day living. Loving him and sharing and hugging him and letting people know that, ‘Hey man, this is how I feel.'
He had a scare. And he has made a great recovery, thanks to God.
He's walking ... talking, it's a miracle, man. I don't even deserve the blessings and grace that God has poured out into my son. I have seen a real, live miracle with my own eyes.
The only thing that rubs me the wrong way here is when I see cars with the horns on the back.
When I think back on it, I always put those memories in my head and let the rest go. There's nothing you can do about the good or the bad. You can pull from whatever you want to pull from, I pick the good times.