A FEW YEARS AGO, JOSH ALLEN MIGHT HAVE heard helicopters, sirens and an occasional gunshot when he was trying to get some sleep at night. Now, he only hears crickets – and it is a
wonderful, melodic sound.
This year, Allen is going to finish his high school career at
Yulee High School north of Jacksonville. When he began high
school in the fall of 2012, he attended George Washington
Prep in Los Angeles. Because they felt the situation wasn’t
ideal for young males where they lived in L.A. – with gang issues and other challenges – Allen’s mother and grandmother
agreed changes needed to be made. It wasn’t that there were
worries the youngster would partake in any of the above activities, but even being on the peripheral of it was dangerous.
Meet Karen Allen, Josh’s 60-year-old grandmother and
a proud 1974 Fernandina Beach (Fla.) graduate. She and
her family moved to Los Angeles in 1979, but after nearly
35 years in California, she decided to move back home to
Nassau County – and two of her grandsons eventually moved
across the country, too.
The boys’ mother, Roslyn, agreed wholeheartedly with the
change – so it was agreed that Josh and his brother, Caleb,
would relocate to Florida.
It has been a wonderful move in which Josh Allen has flour-
ished, not only as a football player with college aspirations
but also as a person. No longer is he guarded, retracted – in
a sense, he’s found himself in
this borderline rural community
just south of the Florida-Georgia
line. After growing up in the
inner-city of L.A., he has adapted
to living on a 3.5-acre plot of
land outside of town.
When Allen moved to Florida,
Yulee High School football coach
Bobby Ramsay received one of
his best Christmas presents in
years. Ramsay – who coached
the nation’s all-time leading
career rusher Derrick Henry
from 2009-2012 before Henry
signed with Alabama – couldn’t
believe how big this new kid was.
The lineman is now 6-foot- 5,
“I had morning duty in school,
‘Whoa, who is this dude? He hasn’t been here because I
would have seen him.’ I asked him, and he said, ‘Yes sir, I do
Though big and strong, shy might be the best word to
describe Allen when he arrived on Yulee’s campus. How
could he not be a little reserved after some of the things he
witnessed growing up in inner-city Los Angeles? While the
family hardly grew up in the worst areas of America’s second-
largest city, Allen was on the edges of it. He experienced it.
One time – since even as a 14-year-old he was more the
size of a man than a boy – he had an incident where he fit
A Defining Decision
CROSS-COUNTRY MOVE PAYS
DIVIDENDS FOR YULEE’S JOSH ALLEN
the profile of an African-American male the police were trying
to locate. He was walking out of the driveway when the police
stopped him and did a search.
“It was harder and tougher there … he just needed a
change in environment,” Karen Allen said. “He’s been with
me most of his life and his mother and I have shared parent-
ing him. Josh was angry, and he dealt with a lot of issues.
He had dealt with the death of his closest uncle. A lot of
emotional stuff had happened. We even did some therapy.”
What has happened at Yulee has been a true transforma-
tion. In fact, Karen Allen now likes to call him her “Gentle
Bear” – though opponents on the football field might
disagree with the nickname. Josh Allen is now openly talking
to his grandmother about things going on in his life, sharing
what’s on his mind. She said she no longer has to ask 50
questions to pry five or six words from him. It has been a
Coach Ramsay has seen the same on the football field.
And so did county rival West Nassau, one fateful night. In
one of Allen’s best film clips, he shows what a good offensive
lineman does best – he was the locomotive, and the poor opposing defender was unfortunately the object that got stuck
on the railroad tracks. It was just one of those clean textbook
football collisions that will give you a headache to watch.
Make that a migraine, actually, unless of course you’re star
running back Jamari Peacock, a highly sought-after recruit
who amongst others landed a Stanford offer this spring.
Peacock was the running back who benefited from the block
Allen put on West Nassau.
“This skinny little linebacker tried to hit Josh and he just
threw him in the air,” Peacock said. “As a player, he just
destroys everyone, whether he’s playing on the D-line or the
O-line, he just puts tons of effort into every play. That’s very
important to our running style in the game. With Josh, you
Peacock and Allen are tight, which is not surprising since
Allen is the trailblazer for what Peacock does. And it just
so happens, Peacock’s mother is good friends with Allen’s
grandmother. They often ride to games together and the
families have formed a bond.
“When I first saw him, I was in eighth grade and I was
scared of him,” Peacock said. “This giant 6-foot- 4 human
being was walking at you. I still can’t imagine what people on
the other side, the other team, think of him when they see
him in full pads.”
Coach Ramsay noticed him right away, Peacock noticed
him right away and opponents notice him on film, during
pre-game warmups and when the lights switch on for kickoff
– and not surprisingly, college coaches are taking notice.
Allen is going to play college football; it’s really just a matter of where. Charlotte (FBS) and Liberty (FCS) have already
offered, and FBS schools Troy and Tulane may soon follow
suit. Also, North Carolina is checking him out – and the Tar
Heels seem to like what they see.
It’s a far cry from when he was a freshman at George
Washington Prep, playing junior varsity football.
“I was scared to get hurt back then,” Allen said. “I think
I’ve developed into a good player and this senior year I’m
going to have to really start revving it up and go 100 percent.
He’s a hitter alright, for all the right reasons.