On the night of Aug. 29, 2013, the crafting of an MVP began to take form. Fresh off his team’s 30-13 win at Hawaii, Buck Allen sat on the balcony of his hotel room alone with his thoughts.
The Trojans were 1-0. Allen was certainly happy about that. His output, however — four carries for 18 yards — was a little deflating. Allen thought he’d play more. He wasn’t alone it that, there were plenty in and around the USC program who felt Allen was due for a huge game in the season opener.
Allen was, arguably, the Trojans best tailback through training camp.
The journey for Allen to go from that balcony in Hawaii to being named the USC 2013 Team MVP last Friday night was one of supreme improbability.
As running backs coach Tommie Robinson walked around the team hotel in late August to do the bed check following the win in Hawaii, he made a stop at Allen’s room. Allen was rooming with fellow running back Ty Isaac. When Robinson came into the room, he spotted Allen on the balcony.
“I asked him ‘Are you all right?'” Robinson recalled. “He said, ‘Yeah, I’m alright. I just thought I was going to play a little bit more.’
“I said ‘Let me tell you something, man. You keep working son. You’re a good person and you have a good heart and you have a good work ethic and your day is going to come. And your time is going it come.'”
His “time” nearly came at another position. Shortly after the Hawaii game, under former head coach Lane Kiffin, there were discussions of Allen being moved to wide receiver or potentially linebacker.
Robinson stepped in opposing any position switch of Allen thinking he had something special in Allen. Meanwhile, the tailback’s practice habits didn’t waver and under the direction of Robinson, he continued to work hard.
On the night of Oct. 10, seven weeks after that conversation on the balcony in Hawaii, Allen had his coming-out party.
The Trojans were in their first game under new leadership with Ed Orgeron at the helm as interim head coach.
Allen rushed for 37 yards on six carries and found the end zone for the first time in his career. He scored twice that night, including a leaping score over the pile at the goaline reminiscent of Trojans great Sam “Bam” Cunningham.
For good measure, he showed his success on that early October night was no fluke. Over the next seven games, he broke the 100-yard mark four times and scored 10 touchdowns. This came on the heels of rushing for just 78 yards and no touchdowns in the first five games of the season.
Many began to question: Who is this Buck Allen guy?
While many outsiders were surprised, Allen wasn’t surprised in the least. Throughout the course of the season, he’s repeatedly said he’s always known what he was capable of doing on the football field.
Robinson, Allen’s biggest backer in the McKay Center, similar to how he stepped in when Kiffin wanted to make the tailback from Tallahassee switch positions, expressed to Orgeron and the rest of the staff after Kiffin was terminated that Allen should be getting more playing time.
His demands were heard and Allen didn’t allow him to regret it.
“I just had a feeling that if we stuck with him at running back that he’ll turn out,” Robinson said. “And he did.”
Allen’s become one of the unsung heroes of the resurgent Trojans who, despite being on their third different head coach this season, will have a chance to pick up their 10th win of the season when they face Fresno State in the Las Vegas Bowl on Dec. 21.
The tailback has gained the trust of his coaches and teammates who voted for him as the team’s MVP. All the while, he’s given his family back in Florida even more to be happy about.
“They living through me,” Allen said of his family. “They so happy. They knew what I could do and just them seeing me on the field … just seeing your son or your grandson or your brother or your cousin or your best friend on the TV, basically it’s just a dream come true for them. It’s amazing. I really do it for them.”
It’s been nearly four months since that conversation in Hawaii. It’s something that he’s reminded Robinson of recently.
Said Allen to his position coach: “Do you remember that conversation we had in Hawaii? I never forgot it.”