By Connor Buestad | Connor@Section925.com
As a young kid growing up in Southern California, star Cal cornerback and team captain Darius Allensworth had nobody to play Sony Playstation with. With no brothers or sisters in his immediate family, Allensworth was forced to play video games alone, often begging his father, James, to sit down and play a game or two with him, usually to no avail.
The game most often in question, NFL Blitz, featured Allensworth’s favorite player Randy Moss repeatedly hauling in 70-yard touchdown catches alongside hall-of-famer Cris Carter. A video game that favored passing to a laughable degree, every game of NFL Blitz was a nightmare scenario for defensive backs, especially when Moss and Carter were sent deep with young Allensworth behind the control sticks.
When James finally did agree to sit down and face his son in a game of Blitz, he wanted to make sure he taught Darius a lesson. The rule was simple: If Darius lost to his dad, he couldn’t touch the Playstation for a full week.
“My dad would always play me with the Colts and I would take Moss and the Vikings,” explained the younger Allensworth. “Well, my dad would win and take away my Playstation for a week. At first I thought he was joking or something, but he was dead serious. ‘You need to learn how to win’ is what he would tell me. And that was it. I was done for a week.”
Despite not having a bigger sibling in the house to toughen him up, the simple lessons on competitiveness from his dad started to pay off at an early age for Allensworth as he involved himself in seemingly every sport he could find, including basketball, soccer and baseball. Football, of course, was another one of Allensworth’s talents, and his father couldn’t help but see the potential in his son and try to cultivate it.
With a future scholarship in mind and the bright lights of big-time high school football, Allensworth moved away from his middle school friends to go live with his father in Corona, CA and play for perennial power Centennial High. Despite his success on varsity as a freshman, Allensworth felt the strain of being away from his mom Sonja and all the friends he went to middle school with. He was homesick and wanted out of Corona, but there was one problem: his friends from home were all going to Heritage High, a brand new school that barely was fielding a team at the time.
“My dad was furious,” explains Allensworth about his abrupt decision to leave Centennial. “I was at a school where tons of players get scholarships to go play D1, and here I was leaving to go to Heritage which was new and an unknown. My dad warned me I would regret it, but I just missed my best friends.”
James’ concerns were more than valid, especially when you consider his son was leaving a football factory to go to a school that first carried a tackle football team in 2009. Not exactly the blueprint to become a PAC-12 starter, but Darius was willing to roll the dice. If his friend from middle school named Donovan Adams was around, Allensworth figured he’d be ok.
Growing up, Adams was two years older than Allensworth. A gifted athlete in his own right, Adams first met Allensworth in middle school, where the two shared their love for sports. Adams was always a beloved kid around town that Allensworth made sure to look up to. When Allensworth returned from his stint in Corona, Adams was there waiting, and their relationship quickly took off. “When I got to Heritage, Donovan was a senior and I was a sophomore. He really did take me under his wing. I was too young to drive so he would pick me up, take me to work out with him. He built a relationship with me and introduced me to all the coaches and showed me around the school. He was really there for me when I moved back.”
Allensworth only got to play one season alongside his friend before Adams moved onto college, but the two made the most of their time together, not only winning games on the field, but helping to build a high school football program from scratch, literally. “Tackle football didn’t start there until 2009 and I was a sophomore in 2010. Me and my friends had to basically pioneer the recruiting process at Heritage. It was so new to everyone. I remember I got my first scholarship offer from Arizona and had to call my high school coach to let him know. He was really surprised to be honest. It was all so new to everyone.”
By the time Adams had graduated from Heritage, he had successfully laid a solid foundation for Allensworth to follow before moving on to Fort Lewis College, a Division II school in Colorado. But after a short stint in the mountains, Adams returned to Southern California to attend Riverside Community College and take a shot at Division I. On June 6, 2012, tragedy struck the Heritage High family, as Adams was killed in a car crash, just days before Allensworth was set to finish his junior year of high school.
“It was kind of a crazy time. He was respected by so many. It happened with four days left in school. Teachers canceled the rest of the year. Finals weren’t held. His open casket funeral was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. That and the funeral here for Ted Agu.”
Following the tragedy of his close friend, the local community was left in shock, doing whatever they could to keep Adams’ memory alive. Allensworth was forced to train for his senior season without his trusted workout partner and mentor. He also had to decide where to go to college. Arizona, UCLA and Wisconsin all gave offers, but Allensworth kept one important factor in mind: Donovan Adams' favorite college was Cal.
“When we were younger, Donovan was a big DeSean Jackson fan. And he always carried around this Cal lanyard for like two straight years. Even though we were from So-Cal, he loved Cal,” explains Allensworth. “When Jeff Tedford offered me a scholarship and I visited Berkeley, it all just felt right. Even when Tedford left, it still felt like the right place for me.”
Following an ACL tear in his knee during the fourth game of his senior season, Allensworth would spend his first year up in Berkeley as a redshirt. In his first action in 2014, he came off the bench and played beautifully, earning a starting role last season where he showed he can shut down some of the best receivers in the country. Now as a junior, Allensworth is considered a legit NFL prospect, a team captain, and preseason candidate for the Jim Thorpe Award (given to the nation’s top defensive back). In short, he might very well be the most important player on Cal’s entire defense.
Last year, Allensworth started all 13 games and accounted for 11 pass breakups and 41 tackles. Known around the PAC-12 as a technically sound corner, Allensworth seems to always be in the right place at the right time, routinely in lockstep with downfield receivers and rarely out of position when the ball is thrown his way.
Allensworth has also drawn on the wisdom of his current cornerback coach at Cal, John Lovett. Lovett is about as experienced as they come, having coached at the highest levels around the nation in both college in pro. His most recent job was coaching the defensive backs of the Philadelphia Eagles alongside Chip Kelly. “He brings an NFL mentality to the table,” Allensworth says of Lovett. “He’s honestly taken my game to another level.”
It is no secret that during the course of the Bear Raid era, the Golden Bears have often left much to be desired on the defensive side of the ball. Allensworth has heard the skeptics over the course of his career, but now as he moves into his role as captain, he knows cooler heads must prevail. In explaining the mentality the defense must take on, Alllensworth says, “You have to play free out there. Fast and physical. Playing with pressure is how you get beat. We can’t play with doubt in our head.”
This is easier said then done, especially with the cadre of QB’s the PAC-12 is featuring this year including UCLA’s Josh Rosen and Washington’s Jake Browning. There’s no doubt Allensworth will be tested each and every week with the kind of schedule Cal has this year.
As Allensworth embarks on his fourth year on campus at UC Berkeley, he can’t help but feel the allure of an NFL contract that could be his with a stellar junior season for the Bears. After all, one of Allensworth’s best friends on the team the last three years has been Jared Goff, this year’s number 1 pick. “J-Smooth! That’s my boy, man,” laughs Allensworth. Every time I watch (HBO’s) Hard Knocks and see him make a bad throw, I have to text him. We’re really close.”
But even with the laundry list of ex-Cal players succeeding in the NFL, Allensworth still manages to keep a level head when talking about himself. He chooses to focus on his friends who helped him get to where he is and the team that he’s taking the field with in Berkeley this year. His laid back, easygoing nature seems to put everyone around him at ease, until the whistle blows and it’s time to lock down the receivers across from him. “I’m definitely a different person out there on the field,” he assures.
A sociology major in the classroom at Cal, Allensworth has taken an interest in the subject and how it breaks down people’s opportunities in life. “I feel like these are important things to learn about especially in the times we are living in today with all the shootings and poverty rates that have been going on. I think it’s really important to know where everyone is coming from and Berkeley has helped me with that,” he says.
Regardless of where Allensworth's life steers him after football, he is always quick to remind you that Donovan Adams will go there with him, ready to help him through any challenges that may arise. For the third season in a row now, Allensworth has worn a piece of Adams on his back, in the form of the number 2. A number Adams coveted during his days at Heritage High. “He wouldn’t let anyone else wear number 2. Wouldn’t even let people try it on. It was his number. But now I get to wear it in his honor at Cal.”
When Allensworth is explaining this, the serious significance of #2, he gazes up at the top rows of Memorial Stadium, remembering Donovan. “Up there in Section PP, that’s where he was with his mom Eileen in 2010. Up there for the UCLA game. He was rooting for Cal I’m sure.”
Cal will host UCLA again this year; this time it will be two days after Thanksgiving. But even if Donovan Adams isn’t in Section PP that night, Darius Allensworth doesn’t believe he’ll be playing that game alone. The older DA will be up there somewhere. Rooting on the Golden Bears.