Rams’ Dakota Allen making most out of second chance
On the final day of the 2019 NFL draft, Dakota Allen anxiously waited to hear his name called.
The All-Big 12 linebacker from Texas Tech had been projected as a fifth-round pick, but five rounds came and went without a phone call. Allen had hoped his openness with NFL executives — a letter explaining his burglary arrest during college — would reassure them.
Then the sixth round passed.
Watching the draft from home as the final round started, he began apologizing to friends for flying out only to see him go undrafted. Then the Rams announced their final pick in Round 7: Dakota Allen.
“I was just so happy I honestly cried. My parents cried; my brother cried,” Allen said.
He was the 251st overall selection, but he had made it to the NFL.
“When you hear how emotional and how important it was to get that call, specific to a lot of the things that he had overcome, not only to just get back to Texas Tech but then to become a drafted player in the NFL,” Rams coach Sean McVay said about drafting Allen, “I think there is an appreciation that he has, and you like the way he responded from a mistake. He didn’t run away from that, and that’s what you want to hear.”
Just three years ago, Allen believed he would never pay football again. Depression and anger from an ankle injury suffered at the end of his second year at Texas Tech would influence Allen to make a decision that haunted his life.
The redshirt freshman and second-leading tackler for the Red Raiders was expelled from Texas Tech after being arrested in connection with a gun-theft burglary that occurred in December 2015. Allen was charged with second-degree felony burglary of a habitation, a charge that carries up to 20 years in prison.
So he returned to Humble, Texas, in the summer of 2016 without a scholarship or a place to stay.
“[My parents] were hurt. And I think what hurt me most was seeing them hurt,” he said about his dismissal from Texas Tech. “I went back to Humble and really moved in with my parents. But that really wasn’t working out just because of everything that happened.”
He moved in with his older brother, Anthony Hawkins, and the two set up a car-detailing company in their hometown. After a Facebook post to Allen’s social media followers — many from his former playing days — business was booming. The two would work in the sweltering Texas heat and spend hours detailing cars day in and day out.
Despite his sculpted, 6-foot-1, 224-pound frame enhanced by spending almost every summer working out at football practices, Allen’s body ached. Most days after a workout, his brother would find him on the side of the house throwing up and splashing himself in the face with the water hose.
“I got to play football again. I can’t do this the rest of my life,” Allen mumbled.
“I told him, ‘Man, you got to make better choices or this is what it’s gonna be,’ ” Hawkins said. “ ‘I know you don’t want this.’ ”
With a pending charge and no foreseeable opportunities to play football again, Allen hung his head.
“My brother is like my best friend,” Hawkins said. “We always had a bond. To see how sad and depressed he was while he was here that summer, you looked at his face, he was devastated and crushed.”
Weeks later, the charges against Allen were dropped after he agreed to and completed a pretrial diversion program. Days later, he received a home visit from East Mississippi Community College coach Buddy Stephens. Allen was offered the opportunity to play football again.
“When they received the news that I was kicked out of Texas Tech, [East Mississippi] reached out to me early. But I didn’t know that that was even a possibility,” Allen said. “I was like, ‘Well, might be a sign from God having these events happen back to back. I might as well try and go play football again.’ ”
He made the 500-mile journey to Scooba, Miss., a small town that is home to less than 1,000 residents and a drastic difference from Humble.
But East Mississippi wasn’t just a junior college football program. It was featured in the Netflix documentary “Last Chance U.” The opening narrator echoes the tag line: “America loves redemption stories.” Allen was hoping to create his own.
He excelled on the field but was still feeling the effects of his misdeeds and the distance from his family. Allen was having difficulty forgiving himself.
“I saw it when he got there, just the lack of like confidence in himself,” Brittany Wagner, a former EMCC guidance counselor, said about Allen of his early stages at East Mississippi. “I think, at one time, he was a very confident young man. And then when he made the mistake that he made, I think it just affected him mentally and emotionally more than maybe he realized, and he was so down. He had really gotten to the point where he was defining himself by that mistake.”
Allen developed a bond with Wagner that they still maintain. Wagner was “school mom,” her positive influence and comforting nature providing the support he needed to capitalize on his second chance and forgive himself.
“I feel like once I started praying, events started happening in my life in a positive manner,” Allen said. “After everything that happened, that’s when I couldn’t deny that he’s real.”
As a young child, he went to church with his grandmother occasionally but didn’t have a structured religious background growing up. In Scooba, he attended weekly Bible study with his coaches and teammates and made the decision to be baptized.
“At first, I didn’t want the cameras there because I just felt like it was too personal,” he said. “Something I just wanted between me and the man. But then they [told] me this will inspire a lot of people. I’m like, well, it’s bigger than me.”
Allen helped lead East Mississippi to an 11-1 record and finished the season with 117 tackles, which ranked top 10 in the National Junior College Athletic Association.
“I think his greatest growth at EMCC was as a person. He was already a really, really good football player,” Stephens said. “He wasn’t going to be a person that let his second chance go by the wayside.”
With the help of then-Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury, athletic director Kirby Hocutt and a reflection letter submitted to the school by Allen explaining his troubled past, he was able to obtain a scholarship to return to Texas Tech for his final two seasons of eligibility.
“The Texas Tech community and coaches opened their arms to him and welcomed him back and embraced him,” Stephens said. “It says a tremendous amount about who he is. He will always be a Red Raider, but he will always be a Lion.”
When Allen returned to Lubbock, he felt as if he had never left. Coaches and teammates didn’t mention anything about the past, and the invigorated linebacker was named team captain.
“I think that it brought hope back alive; the reality that this is my second chance and I have to make the most of it,” Hawkins said about his brother’s return to Texas Tech. “I could also tell he changed completely. He was a better team leader when he came back, enthusiastic. He encouraged other players. No trouble at all. When we [talked] and texted, it was positive compared to Mississippi, where everything was negative.”
In his final two seasons at Texas Tech, Allen was named to the All-Big 12 second team in 2017 and All-Big 12 first team in 2018. He finished his Red Raiders career with 249 tackles, 17.5 tackles for loss, two sacks and four interceptions. He was also the first person from “Last Chance U” to be selected in the NFL draft.
“If you get knocked down, you have the choice to get back up,” he said. “If you get back up, I promise you will benefit from it. I feel like you get stronger when you get knocked down. When you get back up, that’s what defines you.”
Allen’s journey is far from over. He is fighting for a roster spot with the Rams. He was limited during rookie minicamp with a “knee tweak” but is now healthy and ready to compete. On Saturday, Allen played on special teams and on defense in the Rams’ 14-3 loss to the Oakland Raiders. He made four tackles.
“It was amazing —couldn’t wait to get out there,” he said in the locker room after the game. “The speed was pretty fast, but not faster than I thought.
“I would say the biggest thing is the strength. It’s not like the Big 12 where you can just scrape over top and make tackles. You got to actually hold your own in your gap.”
McVay is encouraged by what he has seen from Allen in camp.
“He was limited with some of the things that prevented him from competing as much as you’d like in the offseason,” McVay said, “but he looks healthy. He’s feeling good. He was a guy that really has great instincts and awareness. I think he’s a guy that you could potentially see him be a guy that contributes for ‘Bones,’ ” referring to special teams coach John Fassel.
That would be a start. At this point, he’s happy to have a chance.
“Just give it everything that I got,” Allen said, “so I can say that I left it all out on the field.”
Times staff writer Gary Klein contributed to this story.
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