At age 10, Marcus wanted to play organized sports. Red became the manager of the Encanto Braves Little League team, and Gwen became team mother, taking juice and cookies to games. For a time, Red sponsored another team just to make sure his sons had the opportunity to play.
"When Marcus was 12, he arranged a boycott—of me," Red says. "He wanted to move to centerfield from shortstop so he could make spectacular catches. But all sorts of balls go through shortstop, so I wouldn't let him. He pulled the kids aside and said, 'Let's don't play.' "
Red prevailed. Marcus eventually played every position but first and second base and became known around town as a phenom. For that, the other kids picked on him. "He wouldn't cry," Gwen says. "Red taught Marcus never to cry, that pain was invisible."
At Lincoln High School, Allen started out as a free safety. In one game he made 30 unassisted tackles. When he was a junior, Lincoln coach Vic Player asked him to play a second position—quarterback—a move Allen resisted because he didn't expect to play it in college. He pouted in practice, he fumbled snaps on purpose. Player threatened to kick him off the team if Allen refused to be the quarterback.
Allen reluctantly played the position, and as a senior led Lincoln to the San Diego County championship. In the title game—a 34-6 victory over Kearny—Allen scored all five touchdowns on runs of 85, 30, 20 and 10 yards and a 60-yard interception return.
"I'd have the kids run wind sprints—the football field is inside the track—and he'd hide behind the pole vault pit, but always with one leg stuck out so I could see him.
"I'd yell at him, slap him on the helmet, and he'd give me that ridiculous smile. That smile drove me crazy."
Red was convinced that Marcus took his talent and good fortune too much for granted. Though Marcus was a B-plus student, Red repeatedly warned him not to slip up or he would haul him to the Navy Recruiting Center to enlist him.
One hot summer day, Red took Marcus to work with him. They climbed a ladder to the top of a roof, and Red handed his son a hammer and nails. "I worked the hell out of him," Red says. "It must have been 120 degrees up on that roof. I wanted to teach him a lesson—either go to college or be a contractor like me." Says Allen, "Two hours later I was ready to enroll."
Oklahoma recruited Allen to play quarterback; USC wanted him as a defensive back. The decision was easy: He chose USC with the hope that someday he could play tailback like his idol, O.J. Simpson. After all, Allen had spent years perfecting the Missing Shoes Trick.