Wayne Inman remembers sitting in his office at Terry Sanford (Fayetteville, N.C.) when a 6-foot-3, 190-pound freshman dripping with potential walked by.
Three weeks into his first season as Sanford’s football coach, Inman was still on the hunt for talent that could help turn around a program he says won just two games in the three previous seasons.
So the coach chased the freshman down to ask why he didn’t play football and hopefully convince him to join the team.
“Man, I’m a baller,” Inman remembers the kid saying. “You going to put all your eggs in one basket?” replied Inman, who already envisioned the athlete as a prototypical tight end.
Much to Inman’s surprise — he thought it’d take more convincing — the freshman showed up ready to play at the team’s next practice.
Good thing. Fast forward eight years, and that freshman is now a promising tight end with the Indianapolis Colts who caught 45 passes as a rookie this fall. Of course, Dwayne Allen’s transition from freshman to burgeoning NFL star wasn’t exactly seamless.
Though his natural speed and soft hands courtesy of basketball made Allen physically ready for varsity right away, he lacked the football experience necessary to contribute. So Inman kept Allen on junior varsity that first year.
Allen moved up to varsity as a sophomore. And everything finally clicked for Allen after he lost an up-for-grabs reception to a much smaller player that season.
After that, Inman says Allen became more serious about football. He started studying the game and reading zone coverages – things Inman’s other players weren’t doing.
While Allen showed dedication on the field, Inman looked out for him off it. The coach would take the promising recruit on tours of college campuses like Georgia to show Allen where he could end up if he kept working.
As if that didn’t make enough of an impact, Inman would borrow his son Daniel’s SEC East Division Championship ring and make Allen wear it during detention. At the end of the day, he’d take the ring back and tell him, “If you do what you’re supposed to, one day you can have your own ring.”
What Allen did was focus on athletics, academics and his attitude. Allen, who grew up not knowing his real father, had anger issues when he was younger and got kicked out of junior high and sent to an alternative school.
High school was a new beginning. Allen responded to Inman with respect, no matter how hot his temper got. It wasn’t easy. Inman recalls having to put Allen in his place at times, especially because the other football coaches couldn’t.
“One coach told [Allen], ‘“If this was my football team, you wouldn’t be out here,’” Inman said.
To which Allen would mouth back, “Too bad this ain’t your football team.”
Though Allen had words with others, he behaved well with Inman, whom Allen considered the male role model he had been lacking. He later switched to calling him “pops.”
Once Allen channeled his energy for the good, attention from college coaches heated up. He received so much it became a headache, recalls Inman. By the end of his senior year, Allen was rated the nation’s No. 12 tight end in the Class of 2008 by Rivals. He wrapped his senior season with 27 receptions for 291 yards and five touchdowns.
Allen continued to make an impact at Clemson. He had 93 receptions for 1,079 yards and 12 touchdowns in 41 career games and as a redshirt junior won the John Mackey Award as college football’s most outstanding tight end.
Ever since becoming a third-round NFL Draft pick in 2012, he’s continued to make an impact.