By Ben Pryor
Special to Indian County Today
This story was originally published by Indian Country Today.
The 103rd NFL season officially kicked off this month, and Los Angeles Chargers star wide receiver Keenan Allen, a Lumbee Native American, will play a fundamental role in the team’s high-powered offense.
For the third year in a row, the Chargers held Allen, 30, back from appearing in preseason games, keeping him healthy and ready to go for the start of the regular season.
The five-time Pro Bowler is entering his 10th season and has high hopes for the Chargers this year, looking to ??reach Super Bowl LVII in Glendale, Arizona.
“We have big expectations. Hopefully, we can come out and show what we can do and make a run for it,” Allen told ICT.
After a disappointing 9-8 season last season and a third-place finish in the AFC West, the Chargers invested heavily on both sides of the ball, especially on the defensive line.
Allen was voted the No. 35 player in the Top 100 Players of 2022 ranking. Fresh off a career-high 106 receptions last season, Allen makes his fifth straight appearance in the top 100. Last year he had over 100 receptions, six touchdown passes, and over 1,100 total yards. He is well-known for route running, creating separation and getting open against tight coverage against any defense. In other words, he’d be a worthy high pick in fantasy football.
Allen is just one of a small number of Native American players in the league.
Other Native players include Kansas City long snapper James Winchester, Choctaw, center Creed Humphrey, Potawatomi, Carolina Panthers guard Austin Corbett, Northern Paiute, and Detroit Lions linebacker Malcomb Rodriguez, Cherokee.
Corbett won the Super Bowl in 2021 as a member of the Los Angeles Rams.
Allen is a citizen of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina.
Allen’s Native ancestry is meaningful to him. In 2017, he dedicated a big game to his late Lumbee grandfather, Billy Ransom, nicknamed “Chief,” who loved to watch him play.
Allen spent many hours watching sports with his grandfather on television as a child. In honor of his family, his tribe’s name is tattooed on his arm. “I am grateful to be Indian – Native American. At the end of the day, they started this, and that’s why we are in America right now,” Allen said.
Through his consistent play on the field, Allen hopes to inspire Native youth to follow their dreams.
“I’ll just keep doing my job. Keep being successful and keep doing the things I have to do and lead by example,” Allen said of inspiring Native youths. Allen’s efforts on the younger tribal citizens can’t be overstated, with many hoping to follow in his footsteps.
Each summer, Allen gives back to the community, in part by hosting a football camp and sponsoring an elite basketball team in southern California.
Allen’s impressive career began as a multi-sport athlete in high school, coming out of Greensboro, North Carolina. Allen played college football at the University of California before entering the draft after his junior year. The Chargers drafted him in the third round. Allen was immediately impressive and had an exceptional rookie year, winning multiple honors, setting team records in receptions, and receiving yards for a rookie.
An ACL injury in the first game of 2016 sidelined Allen for the rest of the season. He came back even stronger. In 2017, he was named NFL Comeback Player of the Year. Since then, he has only missed two games due to injury.
Looking forward to this season, Lumbee Tribal Chairman John L. Lowery is particularly proud of Allen and anticipates Allen will continue to serve as a role model on and off the field.
“Our Lumbee people are very talented, and we are very proud of Keenan Allen and his career in the NFL,” Lowery said. “I look forward to watching him play this season and know that he is also inspiring our young people to pursue their dreams.”
This year is expected to be exciting for Allen and the Chargers, with one of the league’s best young quarterbacks in Justin Herbert and a high-powered, pass-heavy offense. Last season, Herbert had the second-most passing yards, and the third-most touchdown passes.
The Chargers return most of the offensive starters from last year’s team, which finished as one of the highest-scoring offenses in the NFL. They are likely to be even more explosive this year. Per reports from training camp, Allen and Herbert have been in sync and continue to build chemistry.
In order for the Chargers to make a deep playoff run, the team must be consistent and improve week by week. “(The team has to) stay together, keep learning, keep getting better, practice, watch the film and see if we can get better at small things. You know, just find ways to get better,” Allen said.