Feature: Brian Allen
Oct 25, 2001
Stanford, Calif. (AP) - Brian Allen knows the date by heart. The last timehe spoke to Rashidi Wheeler, his best friend since childhood, was July 23.
'He was talking about their game against UNLV,' said Allen, a seniorrunning back at Stanford. 'I said, 'Hey, go out there, tear 'em up.''
Eleven days later, Wheeler - a starting safety preparing for his seniorseason at Northwestern - died during a conditioning drill. While Wheeler'sstory made national headlines, Allen quietly mourned his friend's death bychanneling his emotions into an excellent season in Wheeler's memory.
No. 20 Stanford is preparing for the biggest game in its surprising season,Saturday against fourth-ranked UCLA. But Allen, who has started 22 straightgames for the Cardinal, admits the vagaries of football season aren'tconstantly on his mind.
This fall, Allen has played every game for his departed friend.
'Am I completely over it? No. It's never going to be regular again,' Allensaid. 'The mourning process is probably coming to an end, but I'm not going tobe able to ever forget about it.'
In the midst of several weeks of grief, Allen has started the breakoutseason expected of him since he and Wheeler graduated from high school fourseasons ago. Allen is averaging 85.8 yards rushing, fourth in the Pac-10, andhe's the nation's eighth-best kickoff returner.
'He is one tough young man, both in terms of his mental state and his playon the football field,' Stanford coach Tyrone Willingham said. 'Every year,he has just grown and grown and grown. The way he is playing right now is aproduct of his experience and his maturity.'
With Allen's speedy, shifty running combined with junior tailback Kerry Carter's power, the Cardinal are third in the Pac-10 in rushing, a prime factorin their 4-1 start that included a surprising win at Oregon last Saturday.
Both of Stanford's running backs were touched by tragedy in the last year.Carter has feelings of remorse for his perfectly normal collision last Octoberwith Washington safety Curtis Williams, who was paralyzed from the neck down.
'I'm so impressed with the way both of these men have played this season,'Willingham said. 'They're strong.'
From elementary school to high school in Ontario, Calif., Allen and Wheelerwere as close as brothers. They were in the starting backfield at Damien HighSchool, with Wheeler as a fullback and Allen as a wingback. They were on thetrack team together, and they always were close friends off the field.
Both heavily recruited, they chose their college destinations in a similarmanner. Both wanted to play at schools where their degrees would guaranteetheir futures beyond football.
'We wanted good academic schools,' Allen said. 'You've just got to gothere. We always said we'll meet probably one day in the Rose Bowl.'
They saw each other during breaks in their college schedules, but theystayed close with phone conversations.
Allen was at a Bible study class at former Stanford quarterback Steve Stenstrom's home on Aug. 3, when a friend called with the news of Wheeler'sdeath. Allen didn't believe it until he looked up news stories on the Internet.
Allen, a political science major who could end up in law school, has strongopinions on the lawsuit filed by Wheeler's family against Northwestern andcoach Randy Walker. Wheeler's family believes the university was poorlyprepared to deal with Wheeler's collapse.
'There has been some changes that are probably going to come out of it,'Allen said. 'It's about having access to the right treatment ... and it's agood thing.'
Allen attended Wheeler's funeral in Pomona, but the mourning still isn'tover. Allen, who hangs a Jamaican flag in his locker in honor of the country ofhis parents' birth, doesn't take matters of family or friendship lightly.
Before each game, he says a prayer.
'I know that he's in a better place,' Allen said, 'but the selfish sideof me wants him to be here.'
By GREG BEACHAM
AP Sports Writer