A pearl white 1983 GMC Sierra pick-up truck sits protected in Bogalusa at the home of LSU defensive lineman Kenderick Allen. A labor of love, the restored vehicle spends more time at Allen's mother's house rather than in Baton Rouge in order to avoid any damage it might incur sitting in a campus parking lot. He is already planning another paint job for the truck once he gets out of school.
"I can't leave it here in town," Allen says with a beaming grin. "That's my baby. People are always coming up to me wanting to make an offer for it."
Tooling with automobiles was always more than hobby for Ken Allen - it was a necessity. Growing up, he learned the craft from his father who would regularly have to go under the hood to keep his vehicle running. To make ends meet, father and son both labored in the logging industry that is the backbone of the Bogalusa economy.
The blue-collar work ethic in the seat of Washington Parish is as prevalent as the smell coming from the paper mill and has been passed along from generation to generation.
"I remember his dad coming to pick him up from practice so they could go to work together," said Bogalusa high school coach Calvin Hymel. "Kenderick had it rough growing up, but you won't meet a nicer person."
Allen started as a defensive lineman for Hymel as a freshman but decided not to play football as a sophomore. He returned to the team as a junior and earned Class 4A All-State honors, all while continuing to put in long work hours alongside his father.
Colleges began their recruitment of Allen around this time and continued to show heavy interest throughout his senior year. But the happy ending was not yet in sight, as Allen's father suffered a heart attack and passed away during the 1997 Christmas holidays. A few weeks later, his mother would go into the hospital with a heart ailment.
Originally a commitment to North Carolina, Allen changed his mind when Mack Brown was lured away to the University of Texas. LSU and Texas A&M continued to recruit him, but it wasn't until after national signing day that Allen picked the Tigers.
Allen refers to his upbringing as being "raised older" and reflects back positively on how these experiences have molded him into the person he is today - the all-purpose service center for the LSU football team.
Teammates can go to Allen for help with anything from automotive trouble to personal issues. Coaches recognize him as one of the main players they can turn to get a pulse on a particular player.
"Ken's been a guy that had to grow up a little sooner than was comfortable for him," notes head coach Nick Saban. "Even though that might have caused some pain in his life, it also made him mature a lot more than some other guys that might have come from a more protected type of environment."
Allen's value to the team off the field will have to offset what he could be doing on it since he is currently on the mend from a blown left patellar tendon. A scar nearly a foot long runs down the middle of the joint he injured during a summer basketball game.
Most patients require three-and-a-half months to recover from the procedure, and Allen is on track to rejoin the team sometime in September. He resumed practicing with the Tigers this week but no target date has been set for his return.
But even when Allen is healthy, there have been questions about his passion for the game. Hymel said football doesn't mean a lot to Allen, whose career at LSU has reflected an on-and-off interest in the sport.
Asked whether he's worried about budding sophomore ends Marquise Hill and Marcus Spears nipping on his heels for playing time, Allen says he welcomes the extra help.
"I love it," said Allen. "I'm recruiting them here to give me a break. I'm glad they're chomping on my heels - bite 'em."
Perhaps a more accurate assessment of Allen would show that his past has helped him realize there is more to life than just football. He says matured to the point where he fully embraces the team concept of the sport.
Allen has been content with being a role player who, at 6-foot-6 and 300 pounds, possesses the skills that could land him in the NFL.
"He's got the potential and it's something he could do," said Hymel. "If he could play the kind of ball he's capable of, he could own his own body shop with people working for him."
Hymel draws comparisons to his childhood and Allen's past, having lost his father at age six. He credits football with making it possible for him to attend college and enjoy a long coaching career in his hometown, and Hymel thinks Allen's talent could take him to the next level as a player.
Allen, an education major with 19 hours left to graduate, doesn't discuss any NFL aspirations, choosing to focus more on his continuing rehabilitation and final season at LSU. His focus is all the more intense following his arrest for misdemeanor theft last May.
A cashier at a Baton Rouge grocery store allowed Allen to take items without paying for them, and the store manager caught the two in the act. Allen has since served his probation and met Saban's terms to stay on the team.
"I really embarrassed myself. I embarrassed my family. I embarrassed my teammates," said Allen. "I just want to ask everyone to forgive me because we're all human and we all make mistakes. I wish it wouldn't have happened the way it happened. I don't even try to get into the story because I don't want to try and justify whether I was right or wrong. ...I just want to ask everybody to forgive me."
After getting a second chance, Allen was so concentrated on getting ready for football that he blocked out the tendonitis in his right knee that was a warning sign of the injury to come.
He has been a constant presence on the practice field throughout August. He stands on the periphery while his teammates battle one another and the conditions.
"You kind of get a sick feeling because you can't get out there and sweat it out with your teammates," Allen said. "There are things you want to say but you can't say because you're not out there sweating, but you have to change it and say it in a different way to get your point across."
It is this gift for communication that has made Allen to go-to guy for individuals on the team needing guidance. It was Allen who supported linebacker Bradie James when he lost both of his parents within the span of a few months. The two are now roommates and are sharing team leadership responsibilities.
"A lot of the young guys confide in me what they're thinking," said Allen. "They share their feelings with me. I have a sight that goes outside of football. I'm not always looking at football first. I always try to help the younger guys, but sometimes I have to help the older guys, too, in the decisions they make to do the right thing.
"I lead on the football field, too. But I'm more of the behind-the-scenes guy, telling them make sure you go to class, make sure you've got everything right so if something in football goes wrong, you've got everything else right."
Since reaching upperclassman status, Allen says it has been his goal to make every player LSU recruits, and all of the younger players who eventually come to LSU, feel comfortable through their transition to college life. He is already trying to emphasize the importance of doing so to the juniors who will have to take his place next year.
"Kenderick Allen is one of the most well respected players on our team from that standpoint," said Saban, "because he does spend a lot of time with the younger players, and he does have a lot of compassion for the situation they're in. He's willing to spend some time listening and being helpful to them.
With his truck, his knee - and soon his football career - all restored and graduation within reach, Allen will move on to the next phase of his life. Regardless of whether it includes football, it seems he will be able handle what comes his way.