Here was a man who they aspired to be. Here was a millionaire. A local legend. An NFL star. A man who’d sat in their same seats and made it out.
And so they watched as this man wearing a T-Shirt and a diamond-studded Egyptian cross sauntered to the forefront of the Carol City Senior High gymnasium to speak on Saturday morning. It didn’t matter that Saturday night was prom. Everyone — about 150 students, coaches and administrators — was there by 11 a.m. to see and listen to Allen Hurns.
Hurns, who graduated from Carol City in 2010 before starring on the football field with the Miami Hurricanes and Jacksonville Jaguars, was back at his alma mater to give its current athletes things he never had as a high school student: A $7,500 donation to the athletic department and boxes upon boxes of arm sleeves and headbands striped in Carol City colors and bearing the Chiefs’ logo.
“We know what it is to be without,” Hurns’ mother, Erica Wilson, said. “We know what it was when Allen was in school, and we struggled. It was hard for us. We wish we had things like this happen for Allen when he was here.”
Wilson was evicted from her house when Hurns was a sophomore at Carol City. She slept in her car during a two-day stretch of homelessness. So besides the donation, Hurns also wanted to tell students that whether they use athletics or academics, there are ways for them to find the same success he found when he signed a $40 million contract with the Jaguars in 2016.
“For me, football is my outlet,” he told the nearly silent gymnasium. “You see a lot of things going on in the hood, situations like that. But I used football to get away from that.”
Regardless, his mother said football was no excuse for poor grades. Both were important, and Allen tried to drive that home to the students — most of whom were athletes.
“Allen knew that he could not play football if he brought a C home in my house,” Wilson said. “That was not happening.”
But when he was a senior at Carol City, Hurns could barely play football anyway. Facing Booker T. Washington in the team’s second game of the season, he was returning a punt when he was hit by Booker T.’s punter near the sideline. Something in his knee didn’t feel right, but he kept playing and finished the game.
When he woke up the next morning, his knee was locked. His coach had to drive him to the hospital.
He was diagnosed with a meniscus tear and missed the rest of his senior season. He said nothing.
“He just cried,” his mother said. “And he told me to be strong for him.”
After having surgery to repair his knee, Hurns still went to football practice and every game, doing whatever he could to help, even when he couldn’t help much.
“He never even took the pain meds,” his mother added. “He just took the pain.”
Hurns credits Carol City for ingraining that toughness, as well as the work ethic to keep coming to practice when he couldn’t play.
A plea to follow that example — no matter what path they choose — was the focus of his speech to Carol City students on Saturday. To make good decisions. To be determined. And to stay humble.
He concluded his speech with, ‘Much love,” and a peace sign, leading to an ovation that didn’t last very long.
Instead, students rushed down from the bleachers, each one eager to get one word in with Hurns. He waited for all of them, offering a high-five and a hug to anyone who wanted them. After being mentored by former NFL player Santana Moss when he was in high school, Hurns hopes to be that same light for Carol City’s athletes of today.
“We’re family,” he said. “We’re a family.”