Javorius Allen will be the Ravens' new starting running back after Justin Forsett broke his arm last week. Below is a feature story written about Allen after a few months with the Ravens, before his first training camp had begun as Baltimore's No. 3 running back.
Javorius Allen remembers when the subject of "The Blind Side" came up with his new, white, family in their five-bedroom home in Tallahassee, Fla.
"Have you seen that movie?" one of his new unofficial parents asked. "It's pretty much your same story."
From 2009 to 2013, the Ravens had Michael Oher on their roster, the main character from one of the nation's feel good stories. Oher's turbulent journey from homelessness to the NFL became a best-selling book and blockbuster motion picture.
Now Baltimore has another Michael Oher with Allen, a rookie fourth-round running back.
"That's when I realized that it wasn't just me with this story," Allen said. "There are other people out there having hard times."
Allen grew up 20 miles northeast of Tallahassee in the tiny country town of Miccousukee. It was literally a one-stoplight town, except the light blinks so it hardly even counts. What it lacked in refinement, it more than made up for with swamp land, livestock and poverty.
"A country town has a lot of sad stories," Allen said. "A lot of people that were great – better than me – had potential to do big things. But they were just hanging around the wrong people."
Allen can name at least 25 such young men from his childhood. He was determined not to add his name to the list. "I never wanted to see myself as one of the people sitting on the corner or walking around not knowing where your day's going," he said.
Allen's first job, when he was 7 years old, was working for $10 a day tending to the pigs on a nearby farm, feeding them and cleaning out their stalls. His grandmother made him wash off outside before he stepped into the house.
The house wasn't a whole lot better than the stalls. Allen grew up with his grandmother, Rosa Brown, because his mother, Melissa, had a tough time keeping herself afloat. Melissa gave birth to her first of three sons when she was just 14.
Allen called his mom's decision to give him up to his grandmother, "probably the best decision she ever made." Living with grandma was no picnic either though. They had a roof over their head, but that was about it.
There was a makeshift front door that let water in when it rained. There was such a gap at the bottom of it that they would put a towel across the bottom to keep the snakes out. There was a hole so large between the bathroom floor and the tub that you could pick things up from the soil below.
The power would go out sometimes because they couldn't pay the bills. That was a problem at night because the lights were what chased the roaches away. Without it, Allen could hear them scurrying around on the kitchen stove when he went to get something to drink.
One night, Allen woke up to his brother screaming because a roach had crawled in his ear, forcing a trip to the emergency room. After that, the family slept with cotton balls stuffed in their ears.
"If I felt something crawling on me, I just hit it off," Allen said, nonchalantly. "I didn't freak out because I already knew what it was."
Allen didn't think to complain. He didn't even think he had it so bad.
That mentality came from his grandmother, who was raised to put her faith in the Lord first and ask questions never. She herself had a run-in with the law and avoided a 15-20 year prison sentence because of God's guidance, she says.
"My grandmother, she's a powerful lady," Allen said. "She's a very spiritual, very religious woman. To this day, I still think about how she managed to do that. She never showed us that anything could break her."
Allen liked football, so he got a pine cone and used it as his pigskin. He scraped it against a tree to get the* *thorny parts off. Eventually, his grandma saved up enough money to buy him an actual football, which Allen carried everywhere.
"We never let anybody know we were struggling," Allen said. "We always tried to go to school with fresh clothes. It may not be clean, but you don't know that. Me and my brothers may be sharing the same shirt, but you don't know that."
Allen has never known his father, or even what he looks like. Allen viewed his older brother, Devon, as his dad. If Devon went to a party, Allen was sitting in the car waiting for him. If Devon went to a girl's house, Allen was waiting on the couch.
"I followed him everywhere," Allen said. "I wanted to be just like him, and you couldn't tell me I wasn't going to be. I was doing everything he did, saying the same stuff he said."
Everything changed when Allen was 12 years old. Devon was convicted of attempted murder.
Devon was hanging around the wrong people and in a car with three others during a shooting. They blamed him because he was the youngest and they thought he would get the most lenient sentence. They were wrong. They got 10 years. Devon got 20. His sentence at the Madison Correctional Institution began on July 7, 2007.
"When he got locked up, a piece of me went with him," Allen said. "It was the worst feeling ever. I didn't want to talk to anybody. I told myself I would never, ever let my little brother feel what I felt."
Allen still talks with his brother regularly. Although Devon has passed the reigns of being the man of the house over to his younger brother, Allen still looks up to Devon. As his grandma taught him, Allen has put it in God's hands, but he still hasn't come to grips with the thought of his brother in prison.
"People always ask me what I'm going to do with my money from the NFL. I'm going to get a great lawyer," Allen said. "I guess everything happens for a reason. If he hadn't gotten locked up, maybe I wouldn't have been so motivated to play ball."
MEETING THE CULLENS
When he was 12 years old, Allen found the local Carrie Wilson Boys & Girls club in his hometown, the place that would change the course of his life. Allen says it's the place that brought him "back to life" after Devon's incarceration.
It was a safe house, a place where he got help with his homework for the first time, where he could count on his next meal and where the most trouble anybody could get into was a fistfight.
In 2004, Mickey Cullen became the club director, and he took a special interest in Allen.
"You could tell he was a good kid right off the bat," Cullen said. "He was well mannered, raised well by his grandma, very smart. I saw a lot of good qualities in him."
Allen wanted to play football, but the practices were 40 minutes away from his home. Cullen began driving out to Allen's grandma's house, picking him up, taking him to practice, then back. If it hadn't have been for those rides, Allen's football career may have never began.
In time, Allen would leave practice and hang out at the Cullens' spacious Tallahassee residence. He found reasons to come over on other days to do odds and ends such as mowing the lawn. That evolved into him sleeping over so he could go to church with their family on Sundays.
By the time high school began, Allen, his grandma and the Cullens' decided he should take up a more permanent residence at the Cullens' family home.
"That was a whole 360 for me," Allen said. "It's shocking how different people live. Whatever environment you're in, that's all you know."
The Cullens have a five-bedroom house, a garage and a computer room, which was something Allen couldn't even imagine. Internet service didn't even extend to his old home. For the first time, Allen had luxuries at his fingertips.
He remembers going grocery shopping for the first time in his life with Alice Cullen, Mickey's wife, and sneaking food into the cart while she wasn't looking. When they got to the register, Alice said, "That's all you want?" They went back down every aisle getting Allen whatever his heart (and belly) desired.
It wasn't all just spoils, however. Allen suddenly had new accountability too. He couldn't just get up from the dinner table when he was done eating. He was required to check in and request permission to sleep over somebody else's house.
Alice Cullen constantly emailed his teachers and guidance counselor for updates on his academics. She went to parent conferences. He didn't get to meet up with his friends or cousins if he didn't have his homework done.
Alice taught Allen how to drive and went with him to get his license. She made sure Allen had flowers for his homecoming dates. One day in the mall, Alice and Allen ran into a group of Allen's friends. He introduced her as "my godmother, Miss. Alice." Alice cried from joy all the way home.
"All the little details that moms do, she did all those things just like she did for our own," Mickey said.
But it wasn't long until tragedy struck again. In 2009, Alice was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Allen left the University of Southern California to visit her in hospice care, where he spent three days holding her hand and talking as much as she had the energy for.
She told Allen how proud of him she was and how she looked at him like one of her sons. Two days after Allen begrudgingly left, Alice passed away following a three-and-a-half year fight.
"I know it," Allen said. "She waited for me. She waited to see me."
After Alice's death, Allen wrote "ALICE" in black marker on tape over his left wrist. After each touchdown he scored, he kissed his wrist and pointed to the sky.
GRADUATING TO THE NFL
Mickey hosted Allen's draft party on Friday, May 1. With friends and family in attendance, they were all hoping Allen would be drafted in the second or third round.
Allen was a stud at USC, a historical breeding ground for running backs. Over his sophomore and junior seasons, he rushed for 2,274 yards, averaged 5.6 yards per carry and ran for 25 touchdowns. He put up 63 catches for 710 yards and two more scores.
He didn't get drafted on the day of his party, however. The next day, with the 125th overall selection in the fourth round, the Ravens called his name. Allen was just with his younger brother, who, unlike Allen, got to see his mentor achieve his lifetime goal.
"I know when it all calms down later on, I'm going to sit by myself and I just know I'm going to tear up and cry and think about all the stuff me and my family went through to get to this point," Allen told reporters.
Allen went back to college to graduate, becoming the first in his family to do so. Despite his reserved personality, he even gave a speech at USC's student-athlete commencement.
"If you would have told me four years ago that I would be up here doing this speech, graduating from this amazing place, I would have said you were crazy. Totally crazy," Allen said in the speech. "And it's not just because I don't like giving speeches, but because the distance I traveled the last four years feels like a million miles."
While Mickey wasn't there at the moment Allen was drafted, he was in attendance at the graduation. Mickey wants to legally adopt Allen, really in name only. He considers it a regret that he didn't do it before. The door is still open to Allen if he wants it.
"Obviously we were proud of him being drafted and his football stuff, but graduating from college was a bigger deal than the NFL," Mickey said. "He was a really good kid. He was a good young man. Now he's growing up into being a good man."