Lewis: Wave’s Allen excels in class as well as on football field

BY TED LEWIS

tlewis@theadvocate.com

Tulane freshman linebacker Eric Thomas is happy to have fellow freshman Richard Allen as his roommate this fall.

And not just because the two are good friends and were teammates at John Curtis.

Allen was the co-valedictorian at Curtis, the first from the school to also be a Football Bowl Subdivision signee. So Thomas figures if he needs a little help in the books this fall, who better to turn to than his roomie?

“Richard’s always helped us out with our classes and stuff,” Thomas, who took a mythology course with Allen in summer school, said Monday at Tulane’s media day. “When I’ve got a question about something, I know who to ask first.”

Thomas may have to get in line.

Green Wave freshman center Brandon Godfrey and running back Sherman Badie also are signees out of Curtis.

“Richard’s been smart in everything for as long as I’ve known him,” Badie said. “He was in those high honors classes, so we didn’t see much of him outside of football last year.

“But he’d always be talking about what he did at the science fair and stuff like that.”

Allen, a biology major with an eye toward becoming a physical therapist, does indeed have outstanding academic credentials.

He was offered a scholarship by Northwestern and received interest from Stanford and Duke among others, some purely because of academics.

But Allen, who started Curtis when he was in pre-kindergarten (can those guys spot talent early or what?) also has excellent football creds: a three-star (by 247 Sports) prospect who had 110 tackles, 32 pass breakups and 11 interceptions during a career at Curtis that saw the Patriots reach four straight Class 2A state championship games, winning the last two. Allen was a first-team all-state pick last fall and was a member of three state championship track teams.

“Richard’s an excellent student and an excellent athlete,” Curtis coach J.T. Curtis said. “His parents’ first priority always was academics.

“And you can tell that he has natural ability, but he’s always worked hard to get better. Either way with Richard, it was never matter of if he would get something done, but when.”

As much as Allen has been lauded for his work in the classroom, it was important to him to earn a football scholarship at the FBS level.

“I love playing football,” he said. “I probably could have gotten an academic scholarship somewhere, but I really wasn’t looking for something like that.

“Going to John Curtis prepared me for both.”

Tulane secondary coach Lionel Washington has already seen those qualities.

“A lot of things we do are new to him, particularly our man-to-man sets, but Richard’s got football smarts, and you can see him making the adjustments,” he said. “Coming from Curtis helps you get to the next level quicker because they understand the concepts we’re teaching.

“We feel like he can play just about any position in the secondary. I just hope he doesn’t graduate in two or three years.”

Allen already has made enough of an impression that he said he feels he’s en route to becoming a starter by the Wave’s Aug. 29 opener against Jackson State.

And he’s doing OK in the classroom, too, having taken a public speaking class along with the mythology one in summer school. This fall, Allen’s signed up for 17 hours, including biology, calculus and chemistry courses.

“Those summer classes were pretty easy,” he said. “But at Curtis, the teachers let us know what to except when we made the transition from high school.”

If there was one thing about Tulane that might have given Allen and fellow Patriots pause, it’s the idea of going from a program where he’s known nothing but success to one that has experienced 10 straight losing seasons, although most forecasts are for that streak to end this year.

In the past two seasons, Curtis was 28-0 and Tulane 4-21. Going back to 1999, Allen’s first year at Curtis, the Patriots are 181-13 and the Wave 53-110.

“We wanted to come here and help turn the program around,” said Allen, who committed in the spring of 2012 and then played a major role in getting Godfrey, Thomas and Badie to follow.

“You can’t be scared to fail. Failing is how you ultimately succeed.”

And success — both on the field and in the classroom — is what Tulane needs if its emphasis on recruiting Louisiana players is to produce more success than just positive headlines on signing day.

Of the 27 scholarship newcomers on the roster, 18 are from Louisiana.

“We need these guys to be solid contributors,” Wave coach Curtis Johnson said. “When they do that, they prove this coaching staff right about the choices it’s making, and that leads to more and more good players from Louisiana wanting to play here.

“Our jobs are on the line over these kids. So we’ll take as many good ones as we can.”