This my first post in a long time. It may also be the most urgent and important topic I have ever posted. That’s because it involves the life of someone who needs us.
Most of the time I hit you with a blog about some recent topic, some meaningless sports observations, or my usually…umm…”witty” banter. Occasionally, a few of you find my writing to be either important, or perhaps a bit infuriating.
Trust me this time. This one is urgently important!
Out of nowhere in 2013, I saw Facebook post that shook me to the core. My friend and Furman teammate Allen Edwards had suffered a massive stroke at the age of 42. It was unimaginable that this man who struck fear in the hearts of every offensive line in the Southern Conference was clinging to life in a hospital in Charleston.
Anyone affiliated with Furman football from 1988-2006 knows that name. Allen was a player, a coach, and a legend in both Paladin football and in the Southern Conference.
Former teammates Pat Turner and William Hall shared the news of “Big Al” on Facebook. The guys asked us to post messages so that others could read him words of encouragement.
I sent one of these messages, although I have no memory of what I said. Allen miraculously survived and got back to the Upstate thanks to the work of former teammates and coaches, including Brian Anderson, Don Clardy, the late Bob Glass and Ken Pettus among others. These members of the Furman Football Players Association (FFPA) acquired a place for him to live, but they needed help getting him to therapy appointments and other things.
I volunteered to get him to the therapist during the summer of 2015. After our journey to Greenville Memorial, I fought back tears until I could get Allen back inside his small apartment. I called my wife and cried openly even after I got home—tears bigger and more significant than I had cried in years.
It shocks the system to see a phenomenal athlete and giant of a man cut down like this. How could such a young man suffer such a debilitating assault on his health and well-being? Sure, we know it happens. But that does not make it any less stunning.
After this single encounter, I knew that this was not a short-term problem. Allen would struggle with this for the rest of his life.
And he would need a lot of help from a lot of people.
A Chance Meeting
In late November of 2000, my family came to Greenville for Thanksgiving. This happened to coincide with Furman’s opening round playoff game at Paladin Stadium.
Of all the things that I’d hoped to pass along to my children, one of them was a love, passion and gratitude for Furman University – just as my father and mother passed along to me. This is why I took my nine-year old son to that Friday afternoon practice. I wanted him to get a glimpse of what I loved so much about this place.
After practice, my boy high-fived a few players and spoke with a few of my former coaches. His excitement was obvious. Then we came across defensive line coach Allen Edwards, the best to ever wear the diamond F.
I had not seen Allen since his graduation in 1992, and it was a thrill to shake my friend’s hand. I say “friend” to describe our relationship off the field. On the field, he was the biggest challenge I ever faced in football.
I was a “nobody” in 1989, a walk-on center among 22 offensive linemen from the reigning national champions. My first full contact drill in preseason practice was to block nose guard Allen Edwards. As a freshman in 1988, Allen made his second collegiate start in the national championship game and posted five tackles, including one-for-loss, in Furman’s 17-12 victory over Georgia Southern.
How I drew this assignment, I will never know. But the battle was short-lived. One round of Allen tossing me like a rag doll and All-American center Steve Duggan came to the rescue.
This was an ongoing pattern for the next two years. I played a little at every position along the offensive line, but still ran across Allen enough to understand his greatness. Blocking him was a bit like trying to move a dump truck with your bare hands, with as much “success” as one might expect. I held, grabbed, tripped and everything else I could think of.
If I slowed him down a little, the coaches went nuts and said, “Great job!” Which was a waste, because this just made him mad enough to kill me on the next play.
Off the field was a different story. We were not incredibly close, but we were “easy” friends. We lifted together, joked around and occasionally hung out. Big Al always had a serious side, but his tone beyond the turf was much more laid back. I regret that I lost touch with him for so many years.
Invitation to a Legacy
At our meeting in 2000, Allen seemed as genuinely glad to see me and my son as I was to see him. And he invited me to join a relatively new organization: the Furman Football Players’ Association.
I was hesitant at first because I felt pretty unimportant in the Furman legacy. I was a walk-on who had to leave the program early for family reasons. It seemed a strange invite coming from a coach and an all-time great.
But Allen would hear none of that. He encouraged me to join and get involved as much as I could. We talked for almost an hour, and it reminded me one more time of why I love Furman so much. He made me a part of the community and insisted that I join it. This same spirit made my father such a loyal Furman alum and donor.
I joined the FFPA but did not become heavily involved until we moved back to Greenville in 2007. A few years later, I found out just how important this fellowship is.
An Ongoing Relationship
Following that chance meeting, Allen and I kept sporadic contact over the years. An occasional email with some discussion after Furman games we got to attend. We lived hours away, so we made inconsistent visits to Paladin Stadium.
When we moved to Greenville in 2007, Allen had moved to Savannah State. In his senior year, my son moved to nose tackle on his high school team. Allen and I emailed back and forth, as he gave tips on how to play the position. He even helped in looking for an opportunity for Spencer to play that position in college.
After that, we lost touch for several years, other than an occasional Facebook post. That all changed when I found out what had happened to my college friend, and how much support he needed.
Events that Changed Everything
Allen needs ALL of our help.
Members of the Furman Football Players Association (FFPA) and others in the Furman family committed financial support. Former football coach and associate Athletic Director Ken Pettus continues to manage the fund.
Due to a variety of circumstances, I took over as Allen’s legal guardian in the fall of 2018. At times it is a tough task, but it is also one that has changed our lives. To watch someone like Allen have to struggle for every step reminds us all that we are blessed with some of the most basic gifts of life–particularly the gift of being able to help others.
We take care of day-to-day needs, paperwork, trips to doctors, the gym, etc. We get more than a little help from our friends on this as needs arise.
But now we have an issue where we need significant help. We are not in a financial position to support Allen with any more than we currently contribute. His fund has dipped below $5,000, an amount that will barely cover two months of expenses.
Keep in mind that Allen has no family capable of taking care of him and cannot live on his own. Disability, MediCare, and other assistance take care of about half his needs. The Furman family is contributing to keep him in assisted living. Now, we need help from all the family, friends, Furman alums, and others that are willing.
Through the advice of long-time supporters, we are pursuing a goal of $300,000 for Allen’s care. This would cover his expenses for 8-10 years and allow us to focus on his regular needs. Many have already given above and beyond–and we are praying that more can come forward to contribute.
Every contribution helps. This fund is maintained by a lot of people giving what they can to take care of a long-time friend, teammate, classmate, and coach. Like Furman football, it is a team effort in every aspect.
ANY contribution that you can give makes a world of difference.
How to Make a Difference
If you would like to make sure that this great player, coach, and person is sustained for the long term, please consider giving to the Allen Edwards Fund. The BEST option is to contribute directly by mail to:
Allen Edwards Fund, 200 Covington Road, Greenville, SC 29617
You can also donate directly by Venmo @Tom-LeGrand-3, or give to Allen’s GoFundMe.
Please do not hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions.