With his reputation destroyed, linebacker Dakota Allen turned his 'Last Chance' into a second chance at Texas Tech, and now aims for full redemption in the NFL draft
By Chase Goodbread | Published Feb. 12, 2019
HUMBLE, Texas -- Anthony Hawkins meets the irony head-on. Could it have been him sitting in that detention center, finger-printed and mug-shotted? Should it have been him, instead of his half-brother, Dakota Allen, facing near-certain prison time? Lawyer-hunting and paying court fees? Yes, he nods. That was his path, not Dakota's. Those were his regrets. This was his story.
Now 29, Hawkins readily admits to a reckless adolescence, poorly chosen friends, and misdemeanor scrapes with the law that complicated his transition to adulthood. Sometimes he'd sneak out of the house at night, through his bedroom window and on his way to trouble, while his perfect younger brother peacefully slept. Dakota was the golden child whose resume couldn't fit on a single page.
Summer Creek High senior class vice president.
A whiz at math who also helped plan the prom.
He was one of the best high school wrestlers in Texas, earned a football scholarship to play linebacker at Texas Tech, and made his way onto the Big 12 Conference All-Academic team as a freshman.
"I've never met anyone so good at everything he does as Dakota," Hawkins says.
Yet somehow, impossibly, it was Allen who ended up briefly owning the more tragic story: a felony burglary charge stapled to all those accolades and all that promise. The worst decision of his life not only threatened his football career but thrust him to the brink of hard prison time. Absent some near-miraculous good fortune, he wouldn't be getting the chance to tell his story to NFL personnel executives at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis later this month. Scouts evaluating his value and risk as a draft prospect will decide whether or not Allen's single red flag can be looked past, worked around, or used to stamp him as undraftable.
But after all it took to bring him here, back to the cusp of an NFL career, he's not complaining about how he's perceived.
He's just thankful it's the NFL, and not the law, that stands in judgment.
Keith Allen admits being pretty sheltered himself. The only son of church-going parents who could be strict with house rules, Dakota's father attended private school and rarely got permission to go to parties. His curfew wasn't loosened to midnight until his senior year, and even then his mother would be waiting up for him.
"If I came in after midnight, I knew not to ask to go anywhere the next time," he said.
With his stepson Anthony headed in the wrong direction, Keith and his wife, Stacey, weren't about to let the only son they had together, Dakota, hang around the wrong crowd. They showed him only one path -- the straight and narrow -- and he walked it. At 8, he and Anthony rode a bike to a local swimming pool and, for fun, tried to open and close mailboxes in one quick motion on the way there. A neighbor thought they'd stolen her mail and called police. The boys sat at their dining room table as the officer wagged an index finger and made sure they knew that tampering with mail was a crime, even though they hadn't touched a single envelope.
That's the deepest trouble Dakota Allen ever got in as a kid, his parents recall. He made straight A's in school, went hunting with his dad, and had a collection of sports trophies atop his dresser that covered every available inch of space.
"I had a rebellion thing going on because Keith wasn't my biological father, so I didn't want to respect his authority," Anthony said. "It was a 'You're not my dad, so I can do what I want' type of thing. Dakota, on the other hand, he was definitely sheltered."
It's little wonder, then, that when Allen left home for the freedom of college life at Texas Tech, he cut loose like college kids do. Lubbock was so far from the Houston suburb where he grew up -- more than an eight-hour drive -- it was easy to feel like nothing he did there would ever get back to Humble. By day, he maintained impeccable grades in some of the toughest coursework a freshman could take, acing Calculus II on a mechanical engineering track that was beyond the grasp of most scholarship football players.
But by night, he was catching up on all those parties he missed in high school. He built a close bond with offensive tackle Robert Castaneda, who had signed with Tech in the same 2014 class as Allen. They went just about everywhere together, and sometimes, found trouble together.
"We'd go to frat parties, drink too much, and a fight would break out. One time, Rob and I got jumped by like 15 frat guys," Allen said. "It was just me and him, throwing punches just to protect each other. That's when I knew I could depend on him."
After redshirting in 2014, he emerged as one of the Red Raiders' top defensive players in 2015. He made 12 tackles in an upset win at Arkansas, and 15 at Oklahoma a month later. For most of that season, he kept all his success in the classroom and on the field separate from his growing appetite for nightlife.
Soon enough, however, they would collide.
For reasons he's still unsure of, he was benched in a November loss to West Virginia and didn't enter the game until the second half. When he did, an ankle injury put him out for the rest of the regular season -- two more games -- and his mindset took a negative turn. He didn't know if his ankle would heal quickly enough to play again that season, and even if it did, the benching made him wonder if he'd lost his starting role anyway.
"In a locker room, there are two groups -- guys who are playing, then there are the guys who feel like they should be playing," Allen said. "And I kind of joined that group. I joined the pity party."
Nobody was the life of the pity party quite like Trace Ellison. By the accounts of multiple players on the 2015 Red Raiders team, the freshman offensive tackle from Frisco could take a good time over the top. Efforts to reach Ellison through Louisiana-Monroe, where he now plays offensive tackle, were unsuccessful.
"When Rob would come over to the house, Trace would be with him sometimes," Allen said. "I thought, 'If Rob thinks he's cool, I guess he's alright.' But I always had a weird feeling about him."
However crazy Allen and Castaneda were, Ellison was said to be crazy on a different level. Just six weeks after Allen's injury derailed his redshirt freshman season, the three took crazy to another level together.