By Lance Tominaga, ESPN Honolulu Web Editor.
Not only is Gary Allen the University of Hawaii’s career rushing leader, he is almost universally regarded as the greatest running back in school history. The Baldwin Park, California joined the Rainbow Warriors in the fall of 1978 as a 5-9, 165-pound freshman receiver. The prevailing opinion at the time was that the young prospect needed time to develop physically before seeing much action on the field.
Allen, however, had other ideas.
“I was recruited as a wide receiver, but I played both receiver and running back in high school,” Allen recalls in Dick Tomey’s 2017 book, Rise of the Rainbow Warriors: Ten Unforgettable Years of University of Hawaii Football. “I remember my first year at UH. The running backs and receivers had separate meeting rooms, and I remember walking by the running backs room and telling the coaches that I wanted to be a running back. I said that I could do all the things that they wanted their backs to do. But they didn’t believe me because I was so light at the time. Besides, they already had a bunch of good running backs, guys like Wilbert Haslip, George Bell and David Toloumu.”
Wrote Tomey, who in 1978 was in his second season as UH head coach: “One day in practice midway through the season, all of our running backs went down. I said, ‘Gary, get in there. Play tailback for a couple of plays and let’s see what you can do.’”
Recalled Allen: “There were maybe twenty minutes left in practice. The coaches were going to put in Nathan Fletcher, who was one of our linebackers. They said, ‘Let’s finish up with Nathan.’ But Coach Tomey said, “No. Gary says he can do it. Let’s give him a try.’ On my first attempt, Nathan sacked me. On my second attempt, I got the ball and went from the 50 to the 2-yard line. And the coaches said, ‘Okay, Gary’s going to be a running back!’”
Tomey: “I mean, wow. Nobody could tackle him. I said, ‘Let’s do it again the other way,’ and he ran for a touchdown. It was crazy. Gary made everybody look like that were running in slow motion. He had such great feet, quickness and an instinct with the ball. We were all standing there dumbfounded because we had a great tailback on our team and didn’t know it.”
Allen made his official debut as a UH tailback on Oct. 28, 1978 against Pacific, scampering for 92 yards on 20 carries. Although the Rainbow Warriors lost the game, the team found its new starting running back. Three seasons later, he would exit the program as Hawaii’s all-time rusher – 3,451 yards – and a future inductee in the UH Sports Circle of Honor. Allen would also play several years in the NFL as a member of the Houston Oilers and Dallas Cowboys.