A 'Blessed' Career

A retirement dinner will be held in Jackson on July 9th at the Convention Center for former Ole Miss great and New Orleans Saints legend Deuce McAllister. As the event nears, the Morton native remembers a "blessed" career. Read about it inside.

When Deuce McAllister was a young boy growing up in Morton, MS, he did not have visions of Walter Payton or Gale Sayers.

On the contrary, his heroes were named Pele' and Maradona.

"I grew up loving soccer," Deuce, an Ole Miss and New Orleans Saints legend, says. "I got to try out for the U.S. Olympic Development team and that was a great thrill - my earliest thrill as an athlete."

Football, he admits, was not even second on the totem pole of his sports preferences.

"Basketball was my next favorite sport for a long time," he laughs.

But nature, and common sense, ran its course and McAllister turned to football, in a prudent move.

"My body type was set - genetics," said McAllister, who will be feted at a July 9th retirement dinner at the Convention Center in Jackson. "I didn't see many 6-1, 220-pound point guards in the NBA.

Deuce McAllister

"Football made sense. As I got more and more into football, I started looking at the history of Mississippi athletes who had made it in professional sports and the football players far outnumbered the other sports. With my physical attributes, football was really a no-brainer."

Dulymus J. McAllister quickly became vested in the gridiron and accolades and attention soon followed.

"I grew to love football as much as I did soccer and basketball. I suppose it's natural when you are pretty good at something to be drawn to it," he explains.

"Pretty good" is a bit of an understatement, if not grossly so.

McAllister was recruited by dozens of universities - most notably Notre Dame, Miami, Tennessee, Ole Miss and Mississippi State - but early on the Rebels were not on his radar.

"The perception of Ole Miss at the time was not the best for various reasons, including probation for the football team," Deuce said diplomatically. "When my recruitment started, I never thought much about Ole Miss."

When it came time for him to make his college decision, in front of an eager Morton crowd, Deuce picked up the Rebel cap in front of him and, to the dismay of many Bulldogs in attendance, put it on.

"Once I gave Ole Miss a real chance and visited there a couple of times, I fell in love with everything about it," he recalls. "My decision was a shocker to a lot of people, but Ole Miss was right for me.

"It was nothing against the other schools who recruited me - some of my best friends went to Mississippi State, but the combination of the Ole Miss people who I knew, the coaches there and the opportunity to play early in my career as the program came off of probation made it an easy decision."

Once McAllister reported to Oxford, however, the honeymoon almost ended before it got started.

"I love Tub (Coach Tommy Tuberville), but he was a defensive guy who envisioned me as his next great strong side linebacker like he had coached at Miami," McAllister recalled. "I tried telling him I could do special things with the ball in my hands, but he persisted.

"I was homesick, two-a-days back then were tough and I was being moved to linebacker. I was ready to pack up and go home."

Call it fate, or maybe divine intervention, but just as Deuce was having extreme second thoughts about signing with Ole Miss, something happened that changed the rest of his career.

"(RB) John Avery rolled his ankle the next day and (RB) Coach (Eddie) Gran told Tub he had to have me as a fulltime tailback. Tub gave the OK and the rest is history," Deuce noted.

The potent tandem of Avery, the speedster, and the young McAllister, more of a bruiser at the time, at tailback led the Rebels to an 8-4 record, including a Motor City Bowl victory over Randy Moss-Chad Pennington-led Marshall in the Motor City Bowl.

Deuce McAllister

With Deuce as one of the young foundations of the program, Tuberville and his staff were able to draw more top player from Mississippi and a string of four straight bowl appearances ensued during McAllister's Ole Miss career.

During the time the football program was making a metamorphosis into some consistent winning, Deuce was transforming himself behind the scenes as well.

"I learned the importance of speed from John Avery," he said. "I was fairly fast when I came to Ole Miss, but I wanted to be Avery fast."

McAllister, always driven to succeed, diligently went to work to enhance what God had given him.

"I can't tell you how many squats and explosive exercises and lifts I did in the next couple of years. It paid off - by my senior year I was putting up speed numbers I thought I would never reach," he said humbly.

Meanwhile, another incident took place that changed Deuce's life. In the long run, for the better.

Tuberville left Ole Miss after the 1998 Egg Bowl and left the program rudderless - temporarily - as a match with Texas Tech in the Independence Bowl rapidly approached.

"We were heartbroken, literally," McAllister continued, "but in the end, we all just got our first lesson on the business end of football. It made us all grow up.

"And I gained a father figure in (RB Coach) Rich Bissacia, who I still talk to weekly to this day. Coach (David) Cutcliffe was a gift for us because we were in a lot of turmoil at the time."

The last highlight of Deuce's Rebel career was throwing a touchdown pass - believe it or not - to QB Romaro Miller that sealed the 2000 Egg Bowl victory.

Deuce McAllister

Deuce and Miller remain close friends, but that was a common theme on those teams.

"It was a great time. I still talk to 90% of the guys I signed with and a lot of the guys I played with at Ole Miss. We were family. We remain family," he explains. "Some people still don't know what we went through to revive Ole Miss football.

"We like to say that Eli (Manning) and his teams might have built the South End Zone, but we built the IPF."

At the end of his senior year, all of McAllister's speed work had paid off as the NFL scouts lined up for his workouts.

"I weighed 220 pounds and ran between a 4.3-4.35 40. That was kind of unheard of at the time," he said.

Deuce's rookie year with the Saints, who drafted him in the first round, was relegated to spot duty and being one of the leading kickoff return men in the league as the Saints went with the ill-fated Ricky Williams experiment.

The following year, 2002, however, Deuce became the feature back for New Orleans and, during the next five years, became one of the top backs in the league, earning a couple of Pro Bowl appearances and All-Pro honors along the way.

"We didn't have good teams, and that is a regret, but personally I take great pride in some of my accomplishments individually," McAllister said. "To tie an NFL record for 100-yard rushing games in a row, to go to the Pro Bowl, to be mentioned at my peak with some great players - I was truly blessed and thankful."

In 2009, the Saints organization showed McAllister what he meant to them by bringing him back as a member of the team during their Super Bowl Championship run.

"It touched my heart to know I had that kind of respect from the players, the coaches and the organization," Deuce said. "I was determined to help any way I could with leadership, guidance, advice, whatever I could do to contribute. I was in all meetings and was an extra set of eyes for the offensive side.

"I was like a proud father. There were moments when I really felt I helped the cause and that made me real proud. To see guys perfect and execute what was talked about leading up to those games was very, very special to me and I'll never forget it. It was the icing on the cake of my career. To be linked in history with that team is incredibly special."

Deuce officially announced his retirement from football a few months ago and it's something he's come to terms with.

Deuce McAllister

"It's like taxes, I guess. It's just something you have to go through," he laughed. "Sooner or later, you have to walk away, on your own or through injury.

"My prime in the league passed me due to knee injuries and the wear and tear of professional football and I just couldn't perform like I used to, but it's OK. Most running backs get 3-4 years. I had an 8-plus-year career. I couldn't have asked for more. I completed the dream mostly on my terms."

The old man in football, however, is a young man in life - 31 to be exact, and he looks forward to what the future holds for him and his young family.

"I have some business ventures I am involved in. I have my family and I do some public speaking," Deuce said proudly. "And, of course, I am a huge Rebel fan. I keep up with everything on The Ole Miss Spirit, the Clarion-Ledger, whatever I can get my hands on. Right now, I know the baseball team has been in a slump, but we'll turn it around. I have faith."

And what is the message Deuce McAllister, who calls Oxford and Morton "home," is giving when he speaks to the youth of Mississippi?

"Be proud of Mississippi. Stay home. Don't let the outside perception of Mississippi hinder your perception of your home and your home state," he closed. "We have a wonderful state with all the opportunities you want right here. I am living proof of that.

"I also tell everyone to be a positive influence on their peers and those younger than them. It will pay dividends for everyone."

Deuce McAllister is not only a legend of the gridiron, both collegiately and professionally, he's a Mississippi treasure.

And will continue to be beyond football.

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