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.