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Josh Allen’s NFL rise: How hometown prepped Bills quarterback for Chiefs showdown

Josh Allen and his brother, Jason, in uniform on the football field at Firebaugh High School.
Josh Allen, right, and his brother, Jason, during their playing days at Firebaugh High School.
(The Allen family)

Plenty of eyes will be on Josh Allen when the quarterback tries to lead the Buffalo Bills to their first Super Bowl appearance since the mid-1990s with a victory over the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC championship game Sunday.

While Allen is part of a cadre of next-gen signal-callers poised for continued NFL stardom, there was a time when his fame didn’t reach far outside of his hometown of Firebaugh, Calif. It was there in the small San Joaquin Valley farming community where Allen’s athletic prowess in football and basketball first sprouted in between days of pulling weeds out of his family’s cotton field.

Sam Farmer, The Times’ NFL writer, wrote the remarkable story of what Allen means to the town of Firebaugh as the 24-year-old quarterback sits on the verge of advancing to the Super Bowl.

Here are three takeaways from Farmer’s story:

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1. True grit

The Allen family's Pima cotton field with Josh, Marcus Espinoza and Jason standing among the crop wearing gloves and hats.
The Allen family’s Pima cotton field. Josh, left, Marcus Espinoza (Firebaugh’s starting quarterback before Josh) and Jason. They were pulling weeds.
(The Allen family)

Josh Allen’s grit and determination were forged on the family farm, where he and his younger brother, Jason, would hack away weeds, dig ditches, move irrigation pipes, and even pick massive cotton fields behind the wheel of $350,000 tractors. Whereas his family was at one end of the economic spectrum, Allen had plenty of friends and teammates on the other.

“Every summer, you’ve got half the football team that’s working out in the fields, and they do that to buy their school clothes and stuff,” said Alex Gutierrez, who was Allen’s quarterback and baseball coach at Firebaugh. “A lot of them, their parents work hard, but they need help paying the bills. A lot of times there were passing-league tournaments and his teammates would be working, and Josh would be the one driving around and picking them up. He had the pickup, and his truck was always full. He always had three teammates with him.”

2. Town pride

Alternating red and blue “Allen 17” banners festoon O Street through the middle of Firebaugh this weekend. Allen’s extended family owns about 1,200 acres of farmland in the region, not counting the land his late grandfather donated for construction of the high school.

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“Our community, it’s a pretty special place,” said Allen’s father, Joel. “We kind of take care of each other.”

3. Retired number

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VIDEO | 00:59
Josh Allen is only player to have number retired by Firebaugh High School

Alex Gutierrez, Josh Allen’s baseball coach and quarterbacks coach at Firebaugh High School, talks about the quarterback’s number being retired by the school.

Josh Allen is the only football player in Firebaugh High School history to have his number retired by the school. For his former on-field rivals, seeing him in the NFL is a point a pride.

“I’m embracing this run he’s on,” said Beto Mejia, coach of the archrival Mendota Aztecs, who handed Firebaugh its only two losses during Allen’s senior season. “I get to sit back and tell myself, ‘Man, I coached against that kid.’ … And if I take some excitement and pride from it, I can just imagine his coaches from Firebaugh, how excited they are.”

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Be sure to read Farmer’s story in its entirety here:

Before he became an NFL star, Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen made a name for himself in Firebaugh, Calif., a town very proud of its native son.


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