Hall of Famer Rex Allen excelled in 3 sports

Published 10:04 am Thursday, August 8, 2019

Rex Allen checked all the boxes as an offensive lineman. The 1979 Davie football program listed him at 249 pounds, which was hoss status in that era. He bench pressed 390 pounds as a senior, which was a Davie record at the time. He ran the 40-yard dash in 5.0 seconds. He was also a high-motor, high-character guy.

Allen is an all-timer to Joey Kennedy, Davie’s head coach in football from 1976-78, even though he battled knee injuries his entire career.

Kennedy said: “Rex was an excellent three-sport athlete, excelling in football, wrestling and track. He was a very intense lineman and a major college prospect. A serious knee injury probably cost him all-state honors and a full ride to Duke. Rex set a standard in the weight room and on the field that helped Davie football players realize the values of strength and hard work. His blocking performance against Thomasville (in 1977) was the best I have ever seen. I have never seen a high school football player play and practice with as much pain as Rex did.”

Allen (Class of 1979), Shawn Smoot (1989), Whit Merrifield (2007), Michael Waters (2011) and the 2005-06 wrestling team will be inducted in the Davie County High School Athletics Hall of Fame in January 2020. The 19th HOF class pushes the membership to 59 individuals.

You’re in high company when you’re mentioned in the same breath with Burton Lawless. Kennedy coached at Charlotte High in Punta Gorda, Fl., before coming to Davie. He coached Lawless, who was later picked in the second round of the 1975 NFL Draft by the Dallas Cowboys. He made the NFL All-Rookie Team and was a part of three Super Bowl teams with the Cowboys.

Kennedy: “Rex was one of the best, if not the best, offensive linemen that I ever coached. That includes Burton Lawless. Burton played at the University of Florida. He was the National Lineman of the Week one week, and he made the NFL Rookie Team as an offensive guard. I’d take Rex over Burton in high school – even like Rex was (with bad knees). That’s two really good players, but Rex had a higher motor than Burton had at that time.”

Allen’s first knee injury came when he was playing for Davie’s freshman team in 1975.

“We were warming up for a game and doing a form tackling drill,” he said. “I planted my foot wrong (and tore ligaments in the right knee). We’d had two or three games, so I missed the rest of the season.”

Bill Peeler stepped down as football head coach after the 1975 season. When Kennedy arrived, Allen was a 197-pound sophomore who played on both sides of the ball. The only players who were bigger were junior Tim Shaw (218 pounds) and seniors Chris Shupe (250), Danny Allen (247) and Steve Shore (265).

Even though the freshman injury lingered into his sophomore year, Allen had one speed: On.

Allen: “I would continue to tweak the knee, but I would tape it up and continue to play.”

Kennedy: “I didn’t play him on defense (in ‘77) because he had such problems with his knees. He actually had to be taped up everyday, a major taping. (Assistant coach) Dave Hunt probably set the record in using tape in getting Rex ready for practice and games.”

Allen put on 33 pounds in the offseason, bulking up to 6-1, 230 as a junior and manning left tackle on the OL.   

“I went from benching 200 pounds my sophomore year to 300 at the beginning of my junior year,” he said. “That was before you had (weight-lifting) classes. All that was done after school three days a week.”

Allen’s launching point came in the fourth game of 1977, a home showdown against juggernaut Thomasville. Across three decades, most opponents were overmatched against Allen Brown’s Bulldogs, who went 74-28-5 in the ‘70s. (Brown compiled a career record of 331-100-2 with four state championships.) Randy Barker, who ran for 1,043 yards in 10 games that year, had a huge night in 29-25 defeat. Allen had a legendary game clearing holes.

Kennedy: “Against a real, real good Thomasville team, Rex dominated 250- or 260-pound defensive linemen. He had one of the best offensive line games I have ever seen. Randy Barker had 170-180 yards rushing. We had a fumble inside the 10-yard line at the end of the game that cost us a chance to win. It would have been a major, major upset.”

Allen: “They put two or three different people in front of me and not a one of them could get by me. We had some gaping holes. I had actually gotten that film from (Brown). My wife  (Louisa) got it for a birthday or anniversary present. She made a tape of my senior year. I let someone borrow it and I no longer have the tape. That was the game I really wanted because that one was pretty special. Those were some big and strong players that had a lot of notoriety. Our whole offensive line did a great job that game. We had a quick pitch where the guard and tackle would pull. We’d get outside and Randy would get behind us.”

Two weeks later, Allen had a memorable class with West Rowan’s David Drechsler, a hugely gifted senior that year. Allen helped set the tone in the War Eagles’ 23-12 win.

Allen: “They had (Drechsler) lined up on me because obviously he was their best lineman. Well, I jumped offsides and I continued. I got under him and I drove him back about 5 or 6 yards just to make a statement. Well, the rest of the evening, he danced around me and would not hit me straight on. That did not stop him from being very effective, though. He was very quick. Sometimes he’d guess right and sometimes he’d guess wrong. I got my one shot in there on the offsides penalty. I say he avoided me, but he also did his job and made a lot of tackles. I can’t say I got the best of him the whole night because I didn’t.”

Allen and Barker were named to the All-North Piedmont Conference team, and recruiting letters were pouring in the summer of ‘78.

Lenoir-Rhyne offered a scholarship. Allen was getting heavily recruited by Duke and Davidson. Wake Forest attended several practices. Coaches from South Carolina, East Carolina and North Carolina made practice visits. Appalachian State, Kansas, Georgia, Notre Dame and Clemson also showed interest.

Allen: “It was very exciting and also humbling because it was quite a few of them that sent me letters. I went to Duke’s recruiting day; I got invited to campus. Mike McGee was the head coach and I talked to him. Duke was recruiting me pretty hard, and before I blew the second knee out that was probably where I was going to go. I talked to a coach from South Carolina and East Carolina. I talked to the head coach at Davidson.”

At 6-2, 249, Allen was a certified behemoth in 1978. Fellow senior Doug Fowler (200) was Davie’s only other 200-pounder.

Allen: “I was probably a little too big. I was eating a lot of corn bread that summer.”

Kennedy: “That was a big boy back then. You didn’t see the 280-, 290-, 300-pounders like you see in high school now. Back then 250 was real good size.”

But then, with the 1978 season a few weeks away, the highly-touted Allen suffered a heartbreaking knee injury, this time to the left knee.

Allen: “It was the second day of hitting. We were doing the Oklahoma drill. I planted the left foot and it just popped.”

Kennedy told the Enterprise then: “We hope to get our all-state offensive tackle candidate, Rex Allen, back from a knee injury by the second or third game.”

Allen missed three games. After the season, Kennedy told the Enterprise, it “was the worst year ever with regard to injuries.”

Allen: “Oh, it was heartbreaking. The day I hurt my knee my senior year, Sam Story, who was the recruiter from Duke, came to the house after the morning practice and talked with my mother. He was still very much interested. Then he called me the next day and asked how practice went. I told him I hurt my knee … and that’s the last I’ve heard of him. They knew about my right knee. When the left knee went, any chance anybody was willing to take went out the door.”

Allen returned for the final seven games, but he was a big-time recruit no more with two bad wheels.

Kennedy: “I don’t know if it was from growing too fast or what, but he had chronic knee problems. But he never complained about it. He had to be constantly taped. Think about the sacrifices he had to make to play.”

•••

Allen was an outstanding heavyweight on the second and third wrestling teams in Buddy Lowery’s eventual 43-year career as coach.

As a senior in 1978-79, he demonstrated the potential to be among the elite in the state. He captured the NPC title in his unlimited weight class (there wasn’t a 285-pound ceiling back then), made the All-NPC team and held an unbeaten record and a No. 1 seed as Davie prepared for the sectional meet at Salisbury.

Lowery: “He got the J&J Award (Johnson & Johnson). Band-aids and tape. We taped him everyday. He was hard-nosed.”

Allen: “Buddy would jump in there and wrestle with me occasionally. We were rolling around on the mat one day and I was able to pin him real quick. Oh, by the way, that did not go over well. He never took me for granted after that. I can’t say I ever pinned him again in two years. He was a good partner to wrestle with because he had the size and strength to really push me.”

Two days before the sectional, when a deep run in the postseason seemed inevitable, Allen suffered yet another excruciating twist of fate. He slipped on some ice and ravaged the left knee.His wrestling career was over.

Allen: “There was a big snowstorm. I was coming out of a friend’s house and slipped on the ice on a step. I fell off the step and landed on that (left) leg. I reinjured whatever was in there. I never did go back to the doctor. I couldn’t hardly walk on it. The No. 2 seed in the sectional was from Central Cabarrus, and I think he ended up in second place in the state. I had scouted him a little bit. He liked to lock up and then throw a barnyard. So that would have been a good match.”

•••

Oh, let’s not forget Allen was a highly-skilled thrower for Burt Barger’s track & field team.

As a junior, he finished second in the NPC in the shot put with a heave of 49-1 3/4. Runner-up was nothing to be ashamed of – the peerless Drechsler ruled at 55-9.5. Drechsler went on to play offensive line at North Carolina, then spent two years with the Green Bay Packers.

Allen: “David was clearly better than I was. He was well over 50 feet. I was right around 50 feet. He was a great athlete.”

With Drechsler out of the way and in Chapel Hill in the spring of 1979, Allen rose to the top of the NPC with a shot put throw of 47-6.5 in the championship meet at North Rowan.

•••

Yep, there are a lot of what-ifs attached to Allen’s career. His OL talent was enormous before the left knee injury in the summer of ‘78. Tougher than a boot, he kept getting up. He was pretty darn good despite the injuries.

Kennedy: “Rex’s knees kept him from getting a Division-I scholarship. He really came off the ball, had real good technique and drove people away. He was a really good player all three years (on varsity). He was always there, always working hard in the weight room. He was very gung-ho, very fired up, a lot of enthusiasm. He had a real high motor, always ready to go at practice. He was a great kid to coach.”

Allen attended Appalachian State. After graduating from there, he began a career in education. He was a teacher/coach at Davie and Mooresville, coaching football, wrestling and track. His coaching days ended when he got into the administration side as a principal.

When he looks back at his athletic career from the perspective of a 58-year-old retiree, he has no regrets.

“I still did get a grant-in-aid offer from Lenior-Rhyne,” he said. “They were still going to take me, and Davidson. That is when I decided I’ve got two bad knees and I probably won’t make it through four years of playing. I never did completely recover mobility.

“You think about what could have happened if I would have not hurt that knee. But, you know, everything happens for a reason. I wouldn’t have been where I was. I ended up having a good career in education and coaching. Some of that might have been totally changed.”