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Heisman 1981 Marcus Allen
Photo by George Long/WireImage

Paid His Dues

1981 Heisman winner Marcus Allen

For the first 20 years of his life, there was nothing about Marcus Allen that suggested he'd be a Heisman Trophy-winning running back. Sure, he was a fine football player -- talented enough to lead his San Diego high school to the county championship. But that was as a quarterback, and prior to that he'd spent almost all his time on the defensive side of the ball. Allen was recruited to USC as a defensive back, and even then there were concerns about his speed. A rash of injuries led Trojans coach John Robinson to move him to running back as a freshman, but the job there was unglamorous. He was a fullback, tasked with blocking for the true stars at Tailback U. As a sophomore, Allen cleared the way for a Heisman Trophy winner, Charles White. The next season, at age 20, Allen finally got his turn at tailback. He produced more than 1,500 yards -- a great season, but that was a drop-off from White's prodigious effort the year before. Heading into his senior season in 1981, Allen didn't figure to pose a threat to Georgia's Herschel Walker, who did the implausible -- nearly winning the Heisman as a freshman the previous year. But he proclaimed himself capable of a 2,000-yard season -- something no college running back had ever accomplished -- and set about backing it up immediately. Allen rushed for 210 yards in the opener against Tennessee, 274 against Indiana and 208 against second-ranked Oklahoma -- in fact, he started the season with five straight 200-yard games, an NCAA record. By the time the season was over, Allen's record 2,342 yards simply made it impossible to vote for Walker. He collected 441 first-place votes, outdistancing Herschel by nearly 600 points.
-- Pat Forde

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