The Allen University football program went defunct following the 2005 season, until the school restarted it in 2018. In that rebirth campaign, the Yellow Jackets finished 2-6.
However, the revitalized team might have gotten its biggest boost yet, when it signed Cartersville running back Marcus Gary fresh off his fantastic senior year.
He proved during his only season as the Canes starting running back that he can carry a full workload, despite his size. Listed at 5-foot-8, 174 pounds, Gary seemed to put to rest any durability concerns by carrying the ball 281 times this past fall.
Any teams that overlooked Gary due to his size, frankly, missed out on a potential stud college player.
“The proof is in the pudding,” Cartersville recruiting coordinator Dusty Phillips said. “We played 15 football games in one of the toughest classes, in one of the toughest regions in the state of Georgia — traditionally one of the top football states in America. He had over 200 carries for us and had over 700 yards for us in the playoffs alone.
“If you want to discredit that, then you can go ahead and say [he’s too small]. I’m not going to argue with you, because obviously, you don’t know football.”
For Cartersville to reach the Class 4A state championship game, Gary had to become a workhorse. The Canes struggled for consistency through the air at times in 2018, forcing him to average 24.5 rushing attempts over the team’s final six games.
Those contests encompassed Cartersville’s five postseason tilts along with a de facto Region 5-AAAA championship game against Troup County. He totaled 916 yards in those half-dozen games.
Bottom line is that any time the Canes needed Gary to step up, he put the team on his back.
“Marcus was the heart and soul of our offense last year,” Phillips said. “We knew when it came down to needing yardage and getting something going, it went through him.”
After biding his time behind the likes of Trey Creamer and Rico Frye, Gary finally got his opportunity to be the guy his senior year. He certainly exceeded any and all expectations by racking up 1,631 rushing yards, 277 receiving yards and 21 total touchdowns.
“When you thought of Marcus, you thought of more of a scatback-type guy. The guy who can get the ball and go the distance any time he has it,” Phillips said. “To look at a guy who last year had several games where he took on 20-25 carries a game for us, he really exceeded what we thought he could handle, as far as his physical workload. That’s a testament to how much he wanted it.
“Marcus bleeds purple. He’s going to do whatever he needs to do, because he loves this school, he loves this town. He’s a great teammate, and if he knew his teammates were depending on him, he was going to get it done.”
That love for those around him did not go unnoticed, even by those who didn’t work directly with Gary. Conor Foster, who took over as head coach this spring following the departure of Joey King, worked as the defensive coordinator last year and saw every day in practice how hard Gary worked.
It challenged his defense on a daily basis, but it assuredly made Friday nights easier, as only a handful of running backs the Canes faced were even half as good as Gary.
“That’s one of the things that makes our program so great,” Foster said. “We have great competition in practice every day. The kids really get after each other and work hard to make each other better.
“From a coaching standpoint, I just love the fact that Marcus brings it every day, challenges his teammates to get better and leads by example.”
Gary is one of the most reserved, softest spoken players Cartersville had this season. But every time he discussed another 100-yard performance, of which he had 10 in the 14 games he played, Gary always heaped praise on his offensive line for paving his way.
It’s that kind of selflessness that endeared him to his teammates and coaches.
“He never wants to take the credit for it, even if he makes a big run, breaks a hundred tackles,” said offensive line coach Reggie Perkins, who will split offensive coordinator duties with Phillips in 2019. “He’s always going to come back, pat those guys and get them going. When they miss a block, he’ll come back and tell them, ‘It’s OK.’ …
“The relationship grew a lot this season, and it helped us get as far as we did.”
At his signing ceremony, Gary had quite the turnout. He posed for dozens of photos while coaches gushed about the kind of player he was. Phillips, though, wanted to reiterate just how special Gary is away from the field.
“I don’t know a person on this campus that wouldn’t speak highly of him,” Phillips said. “Every day, every person he encounters, he treats them like they’re the most important person in the world. … He’s got that smile, when he comes in the room, it lights up the room. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen him have a bad day.”
He’ll bring that magnetic smile with him to Allen, an NAIA school in Columbia, South Carolina.
Having gone to a tryout with the Jackets the week prior to spring break, Gary got a good feeling from his visit. Based on comments from the Allen coaching staff, he believes there’s a chance for him to make an early impact with the team.
“When I did go to the camp, they were like, ‘Wow, you are pretty good. We like you, and we want you to do big things, when you get here,’” Gary said. “I had a vibe that I can do pretty good there.”
After a long recruiting process that included some delays, as Gary waited for test scores to solidify his full-qualifier status, the recent Cartersville graduate could finally breathe a sigh of relief following his signing.
“It feels good to know where I’m going to school,” Gary said. “… The recruiting process was kind of stressful, so it feels good to be finally going somewhere.”
He added, “It’s very exciting. I didn’t know if it would come to this. Time flew by fast, but it’s exciting and something new.”
It’s the kind of chance many high school players dream to one day receive. Few though ever compile a season like Gary did as a senior, and coupled with the recent re-emergence of Allen’s program, he seems destined to dominate the Appalachian Athletic Conference.
“When our young men have the opportunity to use football to further their education, that’s ultimately what we get the most excited about,” Phillips said. “Allen is a young program, just starting up, and they have a great one in Marcus to build around. Mostly because he’s a great football player, and he’s a great character guy. He’s one of those foundations that’s going to be solid.”