From the time The Citadel announced its 2015 football schedule, sophomore quarterback Dominique Allen looked forward to the game on Sept. 19.
The Bulldogs’ third game of the season was at Georgia Southern, just down the road from where he grew up in Richmond Hill.
“Once I saw we were playing Georgia Southern at Georgia Southern, I was really excited about it,” Allen said. “It was just a really good chance to come back and see all the friends and family at home.”
Allen’s parents, James and Tammie, and his younger brother, Isiah, a seventh-grader at Richmond Hill Middle, were at Paulson Stadium for the game Saturday night. So were grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends and former coaches.
In all, Allen had a cheering section of about 30 people for his return home.
“It was definitely fun,” he said. “I had a pretty good support system from back home in Richmond Hill. It was nice coming back home.”
Tammie said she and James attend all of Dominique’s games, whether The Citadel is at home or on the road. However, playing a game near Richmond Hill gave other family members the chance to watch him play in person.
“To be able to see him here is very special,” his mom said, “especially to have our family be able to support him close to home. It’s an awesome experience.”
Allen’s family and friends were part of an announced crowd of 24,872, the second-largest attendance in Paulson Stadium’s 32-year history. The visiting team’s sideline abuts GSU’s raucous student section.
“It was definitely a great atmosphere. I loved it,” Allen said. “The electricity that ran through this stadium, I haven’t seen in a long time. It was just great being here.”
Georgia Southern fans did most of the cheering in the first half. The Eagles rolled to a 31-0 halftime lead on their way to a 48-13 win.
Allen reflected his team’s early struggles. His first pass of the game was tipped and intercepted, leading to a Georgia Southern field goal. On the Bulldogs’ next possession, Allen fumbled a snap on third and 1, and his pass for a first down on fourth and 2 was dropped by receiver Alex Glover.
Allen regrouped to lead a pair of second-half touchdown drives. He finished the night with 63 yards rushing on 21 carries and 42 yards on 2-of-8 passing with two interceptions.
“Unfortunately, we didn’t perform to our best ability, but it’s just one of those nights,” he said. “I didn’t play my best game. We just didn’t come out and execute like we need to.”
After playing sparingly last year as a freshman, Allen won a competition with Cam Jackson to be the starting quarterback this season. The Bulldogs won his first two games as a starter, a 69-0 rout of Davidson and a 28-10 victory over Western Carolina in their Southern Conference opener.
“Dom is improving daily and weekly as he gains experience,” The Citadel head coach Mike Houston said. “He has a tremendous understanding of the offense conceptually, and as he gains on-field experience, he’s going to improve every single day and every single week. I think we will see him play better each game throughout the year.”
Georgia Southern coaches recruited Allen early in his high school career, he said, but backed off — even as he earned all-region accolades and led Richmond Hill to the state playoffs in his senior year.
By then, GSU’s quarterbacks were Jerick McKinnon, who went on to be a third-round draft pick of the Minnesota Vikings as a running back, and current starter Kevin Ellison. With the Eagles set at quarterback, the coaching staff’s interest in Allen waned.
Allen signed a letter of intent with Air Force. After a year there, he transferred to The Citadel.
“My mom really wanted me to go to (Georgia Southern) because it was close to home and right there in my backyard,” Allen said, “but I went out to the Air Force Academy and had a good time out there, and now, I’m happy at The Citadel.”
Allen joked that he “would’ve had a little bit more freedom” had he gone to Georgia Southern, but likes the daily structure at The Citadel. Also, the choice to attend a military college isn’t much of a surprise for the son of two Marines.
“At Southern, it would’ve been fun,” he said. “But when it comes down to the wire, the discipline that you get from a military school pays off a lot more than you would (have) from a normal university.”