Los Angeles — There may be no end to this story -- at least not to the theme of it. What it concerns is the latest University of Southern California tailback, an exceptionally powerful young man who can carry a football through fire and not smell of smoke.
Since the 1960s the legends have been named Mike Garrett, O. J. Simpson, Clarence Davis, Anthony Davis, Ricky Bell, and Charles White. All have been super runners and three, Garrett, Simpson, and White, have been Heisman Trophy winners.
The latest is junior Marcus Allen, a 6 ft. 2 in., 205-pounder who understudied White his first year at USC, who was the team's starting fullback as a sophomore, and who for a period of several weeks led the nation in rushing -- at tailback, of course.
Allen is a pro-style back who runs inside or outside equally well; who always seems to find daylight somewhere; and who is very adept at making the best possible use of his blockers. He also is a back who often breaks tackles with a combination of speed and power, plus a straight-arm that locks into place like the wheels of a Boeing 747.
Like those who played the position before him, Marcus is helped immeasurably by the kind of offense USC runs, where great emphasis is placed on getting a lot of blockers in front of the tailback. Simpson's timing under this system was incredible.
Basically the Trojans use power against power until the tailback is sprung into the secondary and chooses his own way of advancing the ball. But what the runner does after that on his own can't be taught. Looking at films won't do it; practice won't do it, and neither will coaching, because what it mostly comes down to is instinct.
So far this season, Allen has been averaging 154.3 yards per game (1,080 overall) and is currently the nation's third-leading runner. He has also caught 23 passes (tops on the Trojans) and even thrown one to quarterback Gordon Adams. It was good for 21 yards against California and gave USC's opponents something else to think about.
"Although Marcus played well for us last year at fullback and was often the lead blocker for White, there was never any question about us moving him to tailback once Charlie graduated," said Trojan Coach John Robinson. "The ingredients were all there, including the ability to change directions at high speeds. We also knew we could ask this young man for 30 to 40 carries a game and not overwork him."
Because this is the first year the tailback position at USC has been exclusively his, Allen has not yet generated the publicity White had even as a freshman. But there is practically no doubt Marcus, who still has next year to make history, will be a better pro than White because of his size. His pass blocking has also been duly noted by National Football League scouts.
"Ever since I came to USC I've known what the tailback position here was all about," Allen explained. "You're a key; you're supposed to be able to do certain things; and everybody on the opposition knows you're going to get the football a lot because that's the way the system works.
"But my approach has been to make sure that I did the basic things that counted -- like holding onto the football and learning to use my blockers," he continued. "To me running is a lot like painting. You have to let it flow -- you know, look for the openings and then let things happen naturally."
The following is from the Trojan media guide and is reprinted to show just how much of a natural athlete Allen really is and why a reported 200 major colleges offered him football scholarships.
Marcus had a remarkable record at Lincoln High School in San Diego, where he quarterbacked his team to the city title (12-0-1) in 1977 and was named CIF San Diego Section Player of the Year [and] California Prep Athlete of the Yearm . . . .
As a senior, he completed 145 of 300 passes for 1,900 yards and 18 touchdowns and ran 97 times for 1,198 yards (12.4 average), and 12 more scores. Playing safety on defense, he intercepted 11 passes, running back four for touchdowns. He also made 311 tackles.m
In [Lincoln's] 34-6 championship win over Kearney [High School], he scored all five touchdowns on runs of 85, 30, 20, and 10 yards and on a 60-yard interception return.m
If you're wondering why John Robinson and his USC coaching staff felt that Allen would help the Trojans more as a runner than a quarterback, it was because of his exceptional speed. Once they put a stopwatch on Marcus, the decision became academic.