VERMILLION — Dakarai Allen knows all about fighting for space and attention. He knows what it’s like to do whatever he can to make a name for himself in a crowded field.
In his personal life. On the football field. It doesn’t matter, Allen knows what it’s like.
The senior wide receiver for the South Dakota football team is, after all, the youngest of seven siblings.
In an offense where a dozen receivers may get the ball in a given game, Allen — a Largo, Florida, native — learned immediately he was going to have to work extra hard to make a name for himself.
“You just have to go out there and play every play like you’re going to get the ball,” he said before a practice last week.
Ultimately, though, you can’t be selfish in USD’s no-huddle, up-tempo offensive system, Allen added.
Everyone is after the same thing.
“If you don’t get the ball, you just make sure the other 10 guys are blocking to get that one guy in the end zone,” Allen said. “It doesn’t really matter who gets the ball, let’s get those points on the board.”
Allen, though, has emerged out of a talented group of receivers as USD’s main threat. He caught a team-high 48 passes last season for 703 yards and five touchdowns, and enters this fall as a preseason selection to the All-Missouri Valley Football Conference offensive squad.
His journey, however, began three years ago when he was a freshman coming into a brand new world in South Dakota.
“It was like a big shock really quick,” Allen said. “It didn’t take me long to adapt, especially having those older guys.”
Of course, in Allen’s case, he wasn’t alone.
The USD football program has recruited quite well down in the state of Florida, so by the time Allen arrived in Vermillion 2016, the Coyotes had other Florida natives around him. Then last year, Cameron Tisdale, a defensive back who attended the same high school as Allen, joined the program.
“I hung out with him a lot more and started introducing him to the guys,” Allen said. “It wasn’t really hard for us to start gelling right away.”
Allen’s ‘welcome to college football’ moment came, he said, during his freshman season (2016) when USD hosted Weber State — a classic game in Coyote lore, when the home team rallied to win in double overtime.
“Having all those people screaming in the Dome, that was crazy,” Allen said. “Once I got in, I couldn’t hear anything. That was my welcome to college thing.”
As his career has passed, Allen has been used more and more in USD’s passing attack: He caught five passes as a freshman, 22 passes as a sophomore and then 48 as a junior.
He’s found his way.
Allen said he realized early in his career that the work he puts in plays a big role in his role within the offense.
“Obviously you’re going to be told what to do, but there are a lot of things you have to do on your own,” he said.
Part of Allen’s journey is now being one of those veterans that he once looked up to. And it’s a role he said he embraces.
“I have to take them under my wing and give them what the older guys gave me when I got here,” Allen said.
Whatever advice Allen provides those younger players, it’s coming from a receiver with over 1,000 career yards. He’s now, after those years of fighting for a role, a leader.
“I think I’ve handled it really well,” Allen said.
The trick, Allen added, is not to get distracted by any preseason honors or social media attention — it was hard to avoid when his one-handed catch in the 2018 spring game made it on ESPN.
“It’s really good and all, but I have to stay on the grind and make sure we’re all getting right,” Allen said.
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