Greg Greene was strolling through the hallways at Durham’s Riverside (NC) High School in the spring of 2018 when he passed a very large freshman.
Greene, an assistant coach for Riverside’s football team, didn’t immediately recognize the student who he’d actually worked with as an eight-year-old. But Greene knew the then-6-foot-4, 285-pounder looked like he belonged on the football field.
“This is after football (season),” Greene said. “I’m like, ‘Hey man, why didn’t you play?’ He was like, ‘I didn’t have a physical and I thought it was too late.’ I walked him to the head coach’s office right then and signed him up.
“The more I talked to him and got a better look at his face, I said ‘Why do you look familiar?’ He said, ‘Coach Greene, you don’t remember me? I’m Omari Allen.’ ”
Allen had played for Greene’s recreation team, the Durham Titans, many years earlier as an 8-year-old. “He wasn’t little Omari anymore,” Greene said.
The chance reunion resulted in Allen joining the Riverside program as a sophomore before transferring to Vance County High School in Henderson. Allen has since blossomed into a 6-5, 307-pound offensive lineman who made a big impression on East Carolina’s coaching staff at their “Big Man” camp in mid-June.
Allen returned to Greenville for an official recruiting visit on June 24 during which he was offered a scholarship by the Pirates. He accepted almost immediately, becoming one of 11 prospects to join ECU’s football recruiting Class of 2022 since June 18.
The Pirates’ courtship of Allen didn’t start until June when passing game coordinator Latrell Scott reached out to him via Twitter. Scott extended an invitation for Allen to attend the “Big Man” camp. But it was during Allen’s official visit to campus that a well-laid plan for his college career was revealed by the ECU staff that sold him on becoming a Pirate.
“(Offensive line) Coach (Steve) Shankweiler made a presentation with a plan for my academic and football career,” Allen said. “It covered everything. That told me they were going to look out for me.”
The Pirates are getting an athlete in Allen who is long on potential but still growing as a football player.
After being pulled from the hallway by Greene at Riverside, Allen began his career on the junior varsity as a sophomore. But around midseason the varsity lost its left offensive tackle to an injury, and Allen was promoted as a replacement.
“We had to throw him in the fire,” Greene said. “We hid him at left guard. He held his own. It wasn’t nothing pretty. He didn’t hurt us. But I knew he was going to be a project.”
Allen’s mother became engaged after his sophomore season and the family moved to Henderson. He would reunite at Vance County with Greene, who had just been hired as the school’s offensive line coach. COVID-19 delayed Allen’s debut with Vipers, and also prompted a significant weight gain.
“I was out of control,” Allen said. “I wasn’t working or doing anything but eating and laying around.”
The result had Allen reporting to preseason camp last spring weighing in at 363 pounds. He played the COVID-shortened 2020 season overweight, but still managed to earn first-team All-Big 8 3-A Conference honors.
But when the 2020 season concluded for the Vipers in early April, Allen’s work had just begun. He began a daily routine of workouts and schoolwork with the help of Greene and Vance’s defensive line coach Brian Yarborough.
“He was able to do a morning class (virtually), work out, eat lunch, do the afternoon class and get another workout in right before (offseason) practice),” Greene said. “He was pretty much doing two-a-days every day. From March to May, he dropped 40 or 50 pounds.”
East Carolina has recruited Allen to play either guard or center, the latter of which is a position he’s just started to master.
“They (ECU) tried him out at the tackle spot, but their (tackle) guys are about two to three inches taller than Omari,” Greene said. “They have guys who are 6-6 and 6-7 walking around, so his (Allen) natural build is more suited for the interior. He’s a people mover.”
Greene calls Allen a “gentle giant” who is just starting to tap into his nasty side.
“We call him ‘Blind Side’ sometimes like the movie,” Greene said. “When he flips the switch you’re not going to touch anybody around him. But he’s just a nice, respectful kid now that you can see tapping into the nasty some.”
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