Dakota Allen went from thinking that one huge mistake would keep him from ever playing football again to “Last Chance U” — and then an unexpected second opportunity at Texas Tech.
“I feel like redemption is important for me,” Allen said. “A lot of people that did give me this second chance, I really don’t want to let them down.”
On or off the field, after a burglary charge jeopardized his career.
“You can’t let one mistake define you,” Red Raiders defensive back Jah’Shawn Johnson said. “He owned up to it, and we know who he really is, and yes, that’s why we respect him 100 percent and that’s why he’s our team leader.”
Allen was picked as team captain right after his return to the Lubbock campus last year. He now goes into his senior season as a preseason All-Big 12 pick and is considered a top NFL draft prospect at linebacker.
After being Tech’s second-leading tackler with 87 stops as a redshirt freshman in 2015, Allen and two former teammates were charged with a second-degree felony count of burglary of a habitation. They were all kicked off the team and out of school.
“I remember leaving and saying, ‘Man, I’m never going to be in Lubbock again,’” Allen said. “It was one point at time I thought I was going to never play football again off of just one mistake I made.”
Allen then went to East Mississippi Community College, the first school featured on “Last Chance U,” which focuses on talented and often troubled players who had few, if any other, options.
His time in Scooba, Mississippi, was well-documented during the second season of the popular Netflix series that didn’t air until he was already back at Texas Tech. That was also after he had successfully completed a 12-month pre-trial diversion program that led to the dismissal of charges after a time in community supervision.
In one episode, while speaking with former EMCC academic adviser Brittany Wagner, Allen makes reference to a curfew he had to abide by at the time. When Wagner asked if he was scared the night he was arrested and briefly jailed, Allen said he wasn’t scared but mad at himself. He then says in an interview while sitting in a dorm room that he got involved with some people he shouldn’t have been involved with.
Like Johnson, Texas Tech defensive coordinator David Gibbs kept in constant contact with Allen while he was at East Mississippi.
When Gibbs asked one day if he would be interested in returning, Allen still didn’t think it was possible. But Gibbs talked to coach Kliff Kingsbury, who spoke with athletic director Kirby Hocutt, helping set up his second chance at Texas Tech.
“Dakota is a special kid, a special young man. And I got to know Dakota before he left us,” Hocutt said. “I know he’s learned his lesson, and the way that he’s represented us since he’s been back has been just terrific. And he’s a leader, on the field and off the field now for us, and I’m proud of that young man.”
Allen said he didn’t want to go anywhere else because he wanted to finish what he had started with the Red Raiders.
“Between Kirby and myself, we were willing to stick our necks out because we knew wholeheartedly that it would be a success story because of the type of young man he is and what we knew about him before the one incident,” Kingsbury said.
Allen had 102 tackles, two sacks and two interceptions during his junior season .
“Usually people go from junior college to DI. I went the opposite way, so I just felt like I didn’t belong there, and I really wanted to play football at the highest level,” Allen said. “So I’m just glad I’m back in the Big 12 competing.”
Allen was at East Mississippi when the first season of “Last Chance U” aired, and realized what he was in for when he watched the show. He only watched through the second season — “because I lived it,” he said — and liked that what people saw about him was real.
“My teammates still mess with me about it,” Allen said. “We’ll go Fuzzy’s (Taco Shop) or Wal-Mart, and somebody will be like ‘hey that’s the guy from that show, can I take a picture?’ And they’ll just laugh and joke with me about it. But I embrace it, I love the Red Raiders fans, I love my fans in general, and I’m just here to not let you guys down.”
In many ways, Allen still views this as his last chance.
“The redemption story,” he said, “isn’t over.”