Returning all-state underclassman says anything less than a third straight trip to the Division I section title game at Qualcomm Stadium will be a disappointing season for his Vista High team.

Film study is usually when coaches fine-tune their game plans with their teams, meticulously pointing out weaknesses of upcoming opponents that could be exploited. Once in a while, though, the film room can be a place where players find inspiration.

Russell Allen, one of the state's top linebackers this season, remembers one of those sessions well when he was a sophomore and his Vista High team was coming off two straight losses and was prepping for a showdown against Torrey Pines of San Diego.

"They showed us a film of the '96 team that won the section title," Allen says. "I had been kind of reserved up until then, but then I saw how that team played with so much passion. I told myself, ‘That's how I need to be.' I went crazy in the next game and I still think it was the best game I've ever played."

In that game, Allen came up with three sacks and help limit Torrey Pines to 65 yards. The win turned the season around for Vista, which went on to beat Rancho Bernardo that year, 10-7, in the Division I final.

Allen also benefitted from playing so well on such a championship team. He was noticed starting at the big stadium on defense, he gained all-state sophomore recognition and has continued to develop as a player. Last year, Allen switched to being more of an inside linebacker midway through the schedule. He finished with 75 tackles, 6 1/2 sacks, recovered two fumbles and was all-state underclass. The major difference from 2001, though, was that Vista lost in the 2002 section final, 14-13, to Carlsbad.

"In my freshman year, I was on the JV team and we lost in the first round of playoffs, so I didn't know anything about being part of the big stadium," Allen says. "Now it seems expected of us. Being in there, in that huge stadium, is just such an unbelievable feeling."

This year's Vista team may have to do some serious rebuilding for a return trip to the title game. Allen is back to lead the defense, but all-state cornerback Leon Hall is gone and so are most of the starters on offense, including quarterback Mike Altieri.

Allen says Mike's cousin, Matt Altieri, should be the new quarterback and believes the offense will be just fine. He says to watch out for upcoming running back Michael Wright, who "just tore it up on the JV level. He has been our go-to guy on offense all summer."

At 6-3 and 215 pounds, Allen has the prototype size for a linebacker. He has a 3.3 GPA and his passionate feeling for the game (he says one day he'd like to coach) have all helped him get noticed by major colleges. Official offers have come in from Arizona, San Diego State and Wyoming, but it sounded like he's waiting to see what happens with UCLA and the Oregon schools, which are more his favorites.

"I'd like to commit in the early part of the season, but I also want to get an offer I really want," he says. "I don't want it to be on my shoulders deep into the season."

The son of Jennifer and Dave Allen and younger brother of Julie, 19, who goes to Trinitity Western College in British Columbia, Russell is one of those kids who loved other sports growing up (baseball, soccer), but found the intensity of football irresistable.

"After my sophomore year, which was so hard and so intense, I just couldn't go out there in baseball and relax," he says. "Football's just been my life ever since."

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