McAllister - a Rebel and a Saint - part one

JACKSON – He made his way across the Millsaps College stadium turf, one of those bright green surfaces, like the one on Vaught-Hemingway Stadium's Hollingsworth Field, made to look like real grass but filled with shredded tire particles that flip up into your shoes as you walk.

And it's hot, double-boiler hot, with temperatures Wednesday mid-morning under the Mississippi August sun that only the strong can survive when going through what him and his teammates are to prepare for another football season.

Dulymus McAllister had been through a two-hour-plus practice, then spent some required time in the weight room. He was headed back to the locker room to shower, dress, get some lunch, rest for a while, and do it all over again later in the day.

It's what he's done since he was a kid, in some shape or form. The ritual of preparing for a football season is as much a part of him as anything else in his life. Blessed with talent to make it big in his chosen profession, hard work has been his calling card too and helped mold and shape him into one of the league's best at his position.

Now seven years after a successful run in college – "Deuce for Heisman!" was the all-encompassing catch-phrase from the 2000 season – he's become one of the household names in all of football, all of sports even.

Not Dulymus but Deuce, that is, the nickname he got as a kid that not only stuck but became who he is.

That Deuce was training for another season of pro football in the capital city of Mississippi with the only NFL team he's ever been a part of is only appropriate. He is a face, a figure, an important and integral part of the fabric of the lives of people in Mississippi, Louisiana and beyond.

Elementary school kids across the Gulf South know Deuce. Some of them showed up to watch him practice Wednesday. It happens every day of training camp. Sports fans world-wide need only to hear his name mentioned, that nickname turned permanent name, to know exactly who he is.

Before Katrina, the Morton High product was already an important figure in Mississippi and in New Orleans. He'd spent time and money helping in many areas important to him in his homestate and his adopted homestate.

Since the tragic events of late August, 2005, Deuce has become somewhat of a savior, a saint if you'll pardon the pun. It's a status and a level of admiration that Deuce may or may not be all that comfortable with, but you could never tell it one way or the other. He's the same.

And while his business ventures flourish and his successful pro career continues into its seventh season, Deuce remains the humble guy who signed with Ole Miss in February, 1997, arrived that summer, and spilled his blood, sweat, and tears for the Rebels over the next four seasons, hoping to help pull the program up from the depths of probation, which he did by going bowling with his team after every season.

It's ironic, really, that he'd do the same with the Saints. When he signed on with one of the NFL's all-time losingest franchises, there were more than a few gasps and oh-nos from his fans mixed in among the comments of those who were pleased he would be playing locally.

"It's Archie all over again," they'd say, remembering that one of the NFL's best quarterbacks ever never had a winning season there.

It took a while for Deuce and company to win, a long while actually, and there was a lot to go through – from losing seasons to the Saints being displaced to Baton Rouge and San Antonio as a result of the storm to a head coaching change after the 2005 season.

But like his Ole Miss days, Deuce and his teammates have found success; this time last year preparing under new head coach Sean Payton following a 3-13 season which got former head coach Jim Haslett canned, and with an uncertainty surrounding any and everything New Orleans.

A sold-out Superdome with a waiting list and a run to the NFC championship game last season was as improbable as anything accomplished in sports in years.

Expectations are high for the Saints this year. Many believe another run toward the Super Bowl is probable.

With Deuce McAllister of Ole Miss helping lead the way, there's no doubt that's a possibility.

Coming Friday: What Deuce has to say in part two of this series.

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