BOSTON (CBS) — With an All-World player like Rob Gronkowski garnering most of the attention, it’s easy to lose sight of New England’s “other” tight end, Dwayne Allen.
But his journey to the football field is a pretty incredible one, all made possible by a $10 bill.
It was early in Allen’s freshman year at Terry Sanford High School in Fayetteville, North Carolina that first-year football coach, Wayne Inman, approached him in the hallway. Allen, who described himself as a “knucklehead” at the time, was just coming off an AAU title and thought of himself as a pretty good basketball player. Playing football had never entered his mind.
But Inman saw something in 14-year-old, and in need of players, stopped Allen in the hallway.
“He said, ‘There are two things in this world I know for sure: One is a good-looking woman and the other is a ballplayer. And you sir are no good-looking woman,'” Allen laughed. “He said I was dime a dozen on the basketball court, [but] I could be something special on the football field.”
Inman told Allen he could eventually be playing football on Saturdays, which the teen didn’t understand, since no one in his family had gone to college. Inman continued to tell him there was a chance that if he worked hard enough, Sunday afternoon on the football field was also a possibility. The first-year coach later admitted that he would have said just about anything to get Allen on his team.
But it wasn’t just words of wisdom that Inman passed along to a flip-flopped kid that day.
“He disappeared and came back with $10,” recalled Allen. “He told me, ‘You can take it, buy a bag of dope, smoke it with your friends and have a great time. Or, you can go take a physical and I’ll see you at practice on Monday.'”
Allen ran home and showed the money to his mother, Olivia, who immediately asked whom her child stole the cash from. When he told her the new football coach gave it to him, she was understandably quizzical, given her son had never played football before. But when Allen told her the rest of the story, she said there was only one thing for him to do with the cash.
“‘That man gave you $10 to go get a physical, the least you could do is go get a physical. Whether you play football or not, I don’t care,'” Allen recalled. “She took me to go get a physical and the rest is history, so to speak.”
Inman would go on to be one of the most influential men in Allen’s life, a life that was devoid of a his real father. He had several father figures growing up, many of whom would let him down along the way. Inman never did, becoming a man whom Allen refers to as “pops.”
But Allen wouldn’t be who he is without his mother, who raised him by herself along with his six siblings. Olivia was 12 when she had her first child, and 21 when she gave birth to Dwayne.
“She’s one of the strongest human beings I know,” he said. “She’s where my work ethic comes from; seeing her work two, three jobs to keep a roof over seven kids’ heads all by herself.”
To truly understand what makes Allen who he is, you have to go back 12 years before that $10 bill led him down his current path. When he was just 13 months old, he got into a bottle of Advil. Thinking it was candy, the toddler ate them all. He collapsed shortly after, and Olivia rushed her young son to the emergency room. Doctors did their best, but Olivia was told her son was gone.
Until they were finally able to bring him back to life.
“The good lord wasn’t done with me yet,” he said.
His life wasn’t over, but neither were his struggles. Without his father in the picture, Allen grew up angry and frustrated. Money was always a challenge for his family, leading to nights without dinner and evictions from their home. Worse of all, there was also domestic violence throughout his childhood, first against his mother, who was beaten by three different boyfriends. Two of his five sisters were also victims of domestic violence.
“Life is so different when you’re coming up in poverty. The rules of the game are different, so to speak. You see these things and they almost become normal,” he said. “I’m thankful for the people who were placed in my life to show me that certain things that went on were not normal, they’re not supposed to happen.”
All of those hardships have made Allen more than just a football player. With the Colts, he used his celebrity to raise money to support shelters for battered women and children. He mentors at-risk youth and serves as a role model for children who are victims of domestic violence.
“I ask why I was put in this position of influence. Is it for me to soak it up? No. I’m here to serve,” he said. “I’ve always had the heart of a servant. It’s obvious I’ve been put in this position to inspire those in similar circumstances, better or worse.
“My shoulders are big enough to bear the burden of a lot more than just myself. Because of that I choose to be a voice for those who can’t,” he said.
His life could have ended when he was just a baby. It could have gone in the wrong direction on numerous occasions. Instead, Allen is an NFL tight end, preparing for Super Bowl LII with the New England Patriots.
He knows how lucky he is to be in this position, but he also knows he can do so much more with his life than catch a football. That is something Allen will never forget.