Living in California his whole life, El-Joshua Allen of Winston-Salem State wasn’t sure what to expect when he came to North Carolina.
Allen, a junior college transfer who grew up just outside of Oakland, arrived in August to compete for the starting tight end job. He ended up winning the job, and has been effective this season, but it wasn’t always easy.
“The humidity here is unbelievable,” said Allen, who is 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds. “In that first game against Pembroke, I don’t think I ever sweated that much.”
While the humidity was something he got used to, he wasn’t prepared for some of the culinary delights of the South.
“I had never been to a Bojangles’ before, and I was hooked after the first time I went,” he said. “And Cook Out is out-of-this world good.”
Allen arrived at WSSU thanks to a call from Lawrence Kershaw, the offensive coordinator who is also the line coach. Kershaw was combing through the roster of Laney College, a junior college power in Oakland, when he saw Allen.
After Kershaw got a hold of Allen, the wheels started to turn that maybe Allen might come east to attend college. But he admitted he never heard of WSSU.
“I had played my two years of junior college at Laney in Oakland and in my final season we won the state championship,” Allen said about Laney winning the California Community College Athletic Association championship game in Sacramento last fall. “I was starting tight end and didn’t play as well as I could have and had two offers from NAIA schools. I visited one of those schools but didn’t like it so I went back home and started working.”
Allen said that WSSU couldn’t afford to have him come visit, but it was a little later that he heard more about the school.
“I was at a party of my former coach (John Beam, the head coach at Laney) where he was named coach of the year and there were other coaches there who heard I was getting an offer from Winston-Salem State,” Allen said. “They were like, ‘It’s a great place to go,’ and things like that. So without ever seeing the campus or anything I accepted the offer and was here a couple of days before practice started.”
Allen, who helped Laney College finish with a 10-2 overall record last season, was glad he followed up on Kershaw’s phone call.
“I got a call from Coach Kershaw and he said, ‘I’m from Winston-Salem State’ and I was like, ‘I never heard of it,’” Allen said. “He said they were an HBCU and that got my attention.”
What also helped Allen come to North Carolina was he had close family and friends already in the state.
“My godparents had moved to Waxhaw and my godson is at A&T so I decided to come here and it’s been a great experience,” Allen said.
In Kershaw’s offense, the tight end hasn’t been called on to catch many passes. Allen has six catches this season for 66 yards, and in Saturday’s 21-0 loss to Shaw, he was targeted just one time. But quarterback Dominique Graves’ throw was a little too high for Allen to catch it.
Allen’s most effective game was the win over Livingstone when he caught two passes down the middle of the field and was wide open both times.
The Rams will finish their season Saturday at home against Fayetteville State at 2 p.m. in a game that will be broadcast by Aspire Network, which means his family and friends in California might be able to tune in and watch.
The only goal left for the Rams is to win and finish 5-5 overall. The program hasn’t finished under .500 since 2009 when the team went 1-10 in their final year of playing a Division I schedule before coming back to the CIAA in 2010.
Robert Massey, the interim head coach of the Rams, said Allen has been a great fit on and off the field.
“He’s a great kid,” Massey said about Allen. “He’s been a true blessing because we knew we wanted a true tight end and he fits that perfectly. You look at his body and he just looks like a tight end.”
Allen says he’s doing well in school and hopes to be on the Dean’s List after the semester is over. He’s majoring in political science with a concentration in pre-law.
Now that Allen has been on campus for a while, he loves everything about it.
“I like the vibe out here, and it’s a little slower and there’s really no traffic here,” Allen said. “The traffic is bad back home, but out here it’s pretty easy to drive around.”
As for getting the ball thrown his way, he realizes the Rams are mostly a running team. He also has the ability to block, which helps keep him in games.
“What I have come to understand is I have to do my part and try to help us win games,” he said.