From Butte College to the Senior Bowl: Larry Allen and His Commanding College Career

    Larry Allen's life ended too soon, but his journey from Compton to Canton carved an immortal legacy -- one that has and will continue to inspire many.

    On Sunday, June 2, 2024, football lost one of its most dominant players, but more importantly, the world lost one of its most inspirational humans. Dallas Cowboys Hall of Fame offensive lineman Larry Allen died suddenly at 52.

    His passing leaves a hole in the hearts of many, especially his wife and three children. But his legacy — one forged long before he donned pads and will last long after he retired them — lives on in all who know his story.

    Remembering Larry Allen’s College Career

    Legendary NFL coach and broadcaster John Madden described Allen’s physical prowess best when he said, “If somebody said to God, ‘What should all the guards look like?’ Then he would send Larry Allen down.”

    Allen played 14 seasons in the NFL (1994-2005), with the first 12 coming with the Cowboys and the last two with the San Francisco 49ers. When the dust settled on his career, he earned 11 Pro Bowls, six All-Pro nods, placement on the 1990s and 2000s all-decade teams, and, above all, a first-ballot selection into the Pro Football Hall of Fame (2013).

    “Larry, known for his great athleticism and incredible strength, was one of the most respected, accomplished offensive linemen to ever play in the NFL,” the Cowboys said in a statement.

    “His versatility and dependability were also signature parts of his career. Through that, he continued to serve as inspiration for many other players, defining what it meant to be a great teammate, competitor and winner.”

    “He was deeply loved and cared for by his wife, Janelle — whom he referred to as his heart and soul — his daughters Jayla and Loriana and son, Larry III. The Jones family and the Cowboys extend their deepest condolences, thoughts and prayers to the Allen family and grieve along with the many other friends and Cowboys teammates that also loved Larry.”

    While Allen may have overpowered the league from the first time he set foot on the field, that wasn’t always guaranteed. In fact, it wasn’t always a given that Allen would live long enough to see his improbable dream come true.

    At just six months old, Allen contracted meningitis, and doctors gave him 24 hours to live. At 11 years old, a neighbor stabbed him 12 times in the head, shoulder, and neck while he was trying to protect his brother.

    As the saying goes, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and Allen needed every ounce of that strength to overcome the non-life-threatening hardships that were to come. He attended a different school in each of his four years of high school and wasn’t exactly Boobie Miles under the Friday night lights.

    It wasn’t much better off the field, as Allen didn’t graduate and was not academically eligible to play NCAA Division I football. Thus, he enrolled at Butte College in Oroville, California, where his playing career began.

    Butte went 20-2 and won the Golden Valley Conference twice in Allen’s two seasons, and his personal achievements mirrored the program’s. He earned all-conference and all-state honors both years and was a JUCO All-American his sophomore year. Yet, Allen’s grades came back to bite him, as he didn’t earn an associate’s degree and was once again ineligible for D1 play.

    As a result, Allen spent a year away from the sport he loved, struggling to find work and questioning his future. “I couldn’t even get a job at McDonald’s,” Allen recalled in 1994. “I didn’t want to be a gang-banger or drug dealer. It wasn’t for me. I wanted to do something for myself.”

    Luckily for Allen, all it takes is one coach to believe in you, and he had that in then-Sonoma State head coach Frank Scalercio.

    “I remembered the year before I had scouted Butte playing at SRJC,” Scalercio told the Dallas News. “There was this kid in the game throwing people around all over the place. He was picking them up and throwing them to the ground. I walked away from the game, and everybody told me, ‘Forget about it. You’re not going to get this kid. A big D1 school will get him.'”

    Technically, they were right. Scalercio couldn’t find Allen on any D1 program the following season. So, during Christmas break in 1991, the northern Bay Area coach asked one of his football players, who was going to LA to visit, to find Allen. The player found him where he liked to spend his free time: on the basketball court.

    Allen’s phone wasn’t exactly exploding with offers, so when he found out a D2 coach wanted him on his team, he packed his bags and made the trip up north. The rest is history, as was his play.

    Not only was Allen a two-time All-American for the Cossacks after allowing just one sack, but he won NCAC Offensive Player of the Year as a senior, which had previously been unheard of for a non-QB, RB, or WR.

    The utter carnage he created earned him invites to the East-West Shrine Bowl and the Senior Bowl. Just two years before Sonoma State’s football team became defunct, Allen became the school’s only NFL Draft selection, going to the Cowboys in the second round.

    The Pro Football Hall of Fame isn’t the only Hall Allen graces, as he was enshrined in the Sonoma State Athletics Hall of Fame (2001) and the NCAA Division II Football Hall of Fame (2011).

    However, all of Allen’s career accomplishments pale in comparison to the impact he made off the field, which can be felt in the tear-jerking reactions his former teammates and coaches had after his passing.

    “I’m at a loss of words right now. Such a good dude, great player, super person,” HoF Cowboys RB Emmitt Smith said. “The one thing about Larry Allen — I know — he had a big heart, and he lived life to the fullest. A man of very few words but, on the football field, was a beast. And [he] will be sorely missed.”

    “My heart is heavy with the loss of SSU Cossack and Dallas Cowboy great, Larry Allen,” Scalercio stated. “Larry will always hold a special place in the hearts of our community and my family. He will forever be one of the most respected players, teammates and men in college football and the NFL. I will miss his big smile and hugs.”

    Allen’s physical strength fueled his dominance on the field, but it was his inner resilience that truly paved the path for his eternal legacy.

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