Feature Writing

It Runs in the Blood

FAYETTEVILLE — It was loud. That’s what Austin Allen, quarterback for Fayetteville High School, remembers about the 2011 Arkansas high school football State Championship between Fayetteville and Bentonville. The game had stayed close until the fourth quarter, unexpected for a game that had Bentonville as the favorite, having beaten Fayetteville 41-6 earlier in the year.

Fayetteville put together a thrilling final offensive drive that sent the game into overtime.

Bentonville scored first, 28-21. Allen, on a critical fourth down from the two yard line, threw a touchdown, 28-27. Head Coach Daryl Patton confidently went for the two point conversion. He called the same play that Bentonville had used earlier in the game to score. Allen hit the tight end in the end zone. They dogpiled in the end zone and Fayetteville won 29-28. Allen received the MVP after throwing for four touchdowns, and asserting himself as a driven leader and one of the most dangerous quarterbacks in the nation.

Allen, a senior now at Fayetteville High School is leading the Bulldogs to their second straight state championship game against Bentonville. A season that started slowly has been opportunity for Allen to step into an even bigger leadership role in guiding his team back into its winning habit.

Allen started playing football as soon as he was old enough to join the league at the Boys & Girls Club. He started playing fullback in second grade, moving to running back the following year, then center the year after.

“I was one of those huge kids,” Allen says. “They stuck me at center in fourth grade, but I ended up moving to quarterback.”

Quarterback is where Allen found his niche, and has received ample help and support along the way from a family ridden with athletes.

Football and leadership are in Allen’s blood. His father, Bob Allen, a defensive coach at the U of A, played quarterback at Virginia Tech and has been coaching college football since before Austin was born. His jobs led him to four different states by the time Austin was two, eventually landing them in Arkansas where the Allen family has been ever since.

“My dad’s the one that taught me how to throw the football,” Allen said. “I’ve never learned from any camp or anything, only him.”

Austin’s oldest brother, Christian, played football in high school and now plays baseball at UA Fort Smith. The middle brother in the family, Brandon, is a quarterback for the Razorbacks and received significant playing time against Alabama when starting quarterback Tyler Wilson was sidelined with a concussion.

Austin said he could always talk to his older brothers about college athletics, having the opportunity to see them get recruited and learn how to respond. Their father has also been a recruiter for his entire coaching career. Attention is common in the Allen family.

Brandon and Austin, both listed at 6’2 and hovering around 210 lbs, will eventually compete with one another for the starting job as quarterback for the Razorbacks. On ESPN’s Recruiting Nation Football website, the brothers were separated by two points on their “Scout Grade” on a scale of one to 100.

Brandon and Austin’s father, Bob Allen, said that the two quarterbacks have similar styles.

“Both see the field well,” Bob said, “and can change the play at the line of scrimmage. Brandon came through high school as more of a scrambler, where Austin learned to be a bit more patient and stay in the pocket as a thrower.”

The Bulldogs lost their first two games of the 2012 season to two out-of-state opponents after being pre-ranked number one in the state of Arkansas. With an 0-2 record, and a state championship still in mind, Allen took initiative in keeping the team collected and focused.

Safety Alex Brignoni and linebacker Brooks Ellis, both Arkansas commits, sat out the first couple games of the season with injuries. Allen was one of the only healthy veterans on the varsity squad available to play and lead the team.

“It was surprising when we had lost that early in the year,” Allen said. “Being ranked number one in the state and losing opened our eyes. We realized no one is going to bow down for us.”

As a leader on the football team, Allen considers one of his responsibilities on the team as making the choice to have a positive attitude when no one else wants to. He considers a quarterback’s job as one who carries weight for the team as its offensive leader.

Looking back on the entire regular season, Allen admitted to being a bit nervous after such a slow start, but continued to use words like “focus” and “determined” when discussing the bigger goals of a conference and state championship. Allen proved his determination by completing 213 of 338 passes for 3,395 yards and 29 touchdowns in his team’s march to the 2012 state championship game.

He gives credit to the team’s defense for recovering from the early losses. Since starting 0-2, Fayetteville’s defense has allowed an average of 14 points per game.

Allen’s talent landed him a spot at the prestigious Elite 11 quarterback camp in southern California this past summer. He competed there with a number of other quarterbacks in intensive drills, judging each other’s all-around skills set. Last Friday at the school’s state championship pep rally, Allen was presented with the award of Gatorade Arkansas Player of the Year.

He credits his ability of keeping a level head amidst the attention to his experience of getting to study his older brothers’ experience with recognition.

“I’ve been around it,” Allen said, “and my parents taught me at a young age not to get a big head.”

As his last football game as a Fayetteville Bulldog approaches, Allen said that he never knew how fast his time in high school would pass by. He said that during his time in high school, he’s learned more from football than simply how to execute pressure-ridden, game-winning fourth quarter drives. He’s enjoyed his team more than he has the team’s results.

“We’re a brotherhood,” Allen said.

The Fayetteville Bulldog brotherhood takes on the Bentonville Tigers Saturday night for the state championship at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock.

Allen said he’s as ready as ever for his final game as a Fayetteville Bulldog.

Beefalo story, rewritten

In an 80 acre patch of land off of Sugar Hill Road outside of Lincoln, Beefalo breeding stock is sold to buyers from across the nation coming for a calf of the specific breed of cow.

Larry Hacker and his wife Nelda live on their 80 acres in Lincoln and generally keep 70 cows on their land at any given time, selling stock for their Beefalo.

“Nelda grew up in a town,” Larry said, “and I needed to know that she would like living on a farm before retirement.”

The couple was introduced to Beefalo by some friends, and, after becoming fond of the animals, bought a couple of heifers and began breeding the animals themselves.

Beefalo, a breed of cow known for its lean mean and lower cholesterol, gives heart patients a chance to enjoy beef with little fat. Full bred Beefalo are 3/8 Buffalo and 5/8 other beef breed.

The animals are generally four generations removed from the Bison and are said by Hacker to be docile creatures. They prefer to be in herds, and Hacker encourages buyers to buy the animals in two at a time because they animals seem to thrive in pairs.

Hacker was raised on a farm in Illinois and always dreamed of returning to life on the farm after retirement. After graduating from high school in Lincoln, Arkansas, he went on to receive a master’s from Kansas State, married his high school sweet heart, Nelda, and enlisted in the US Army. Near the end of his stent in the army, Hacker and his wife began raising cattle on a ten acre farm in Kentucky.

While in Kentucky, Hacker became a board member for the American Beefalo Association, and remains on the board to this day.

Since returning to Northwest Arkansas, the Hacker’s sell more Beefalo breeding stock than anyone in the United States.

The Hackers also show their cattle and work with young people who want to show cattle themselves but can’t afford livestock themselves.

The children who the Hacker’s have taught have eventually brought children of their own to come back the ranch to see the place and meet the people who taught them about cattle.

“We like getting kids involved,” Hacker shared.

The Hacker’s are dedicated to sharing their experience with Beefalo with others younger than them willing to learn about the unique animals.

Coming Home To A Place You’d Never Been Before

Fayetteville – Tom Masse was leading the way in his truck on the interstate in Mobile, Alabama with his wife and teenage son in the family suburban behind him. Everything the family had to their name was squeezed tightly between the doors of the two vehicles and strapped to the trailers they were towing. Out of necessity and with a friend’s advice, they were leaving Florida for Fayetteville. The Masse family wasn’t far outside of their home state when Tom’s GPS told him to make a quick exit off of the interstate.

As the truck whipped onto the exit ramp, Tom felt the truck’s center of gravity change as the vehicle began to tilt. His wife, Sydna, and son, Dan, felt their stomachs drop as they watched closely. A few seconds passed, and the trailer settled, wobbling, then smoothly, back on the road.

The Masse family, consisting of Tom, Sydna, and their three sons, Bruce, Michael, and Dan, had lost all forms of income in their home of Englewood, Florida, and in a game of what Sydna calls “Real Life Pin The Tail On The Donkey”, decided to move to Fayetteville and start over. Moving to a landlocked stated forced Tom to leave his live as a charter boat captain, eventually finding a profit off of storage auctions

The Masses felt the blows received from the beginnings of the recession in 2007. They owned two seaside duplex properties that they would rent out snowbirds, Tom said. “Rich people form up north that would winter down in Englewood and pay me to take them fishing. They’d also stay in our properties.”

The population of Englewood would inflate from 30,000 to 130,000 from November to April every year. The recession slowed the migration a bit, forcing Tom to nearly double his time on the boat with customers in order to keep his family fed.

April 20, 2011 changed the Masse family forever. An oil rig run by British Petroleum, BP, exploded. In the months to come, the economy of the Gulf Coast plummeted.

The phone stopped ringing with customers for the once-coveted seaside duplexes. The phones were silent for Tom’s charter boat trips too. The duplexes’ values dropped $20,000 each, leaving the property worth less than $80,000 of the purchase price. The boat was repossessed and the properties given to the hands of a realtor.

The oil spill on top of the recession left jobs in Englewood impossible to find. “Everything was taken by the elderly,” Sydna said. “Burger King, Walmart, everything. People were coming out of retirement because everything they had was disappearing.”

Tom was out of work, which meant the support for Synda’s post-abortion ministry to women, Ramah International, was on the verge of going under.

Tom remembered a friend he took on a fishing trip years earlier named Vince Lichlyter, a drummer in a rock band that Tom had become fond of. Tom had contacted Lichlyter after hearing that the band was touring through nearby Ft. Myers, and offered to take them out on the boat. They hit it off as friends, and Tom remembered how Lichlyter would brag about how beautiful his home of Fayetteville, Arkansas was.

As the Masse family soaked in a stressful bankruptcy, they researched of anywhere that came to mind where they could relocate and start over.

Research led Tom to Northwest Arkansas, where the average age was 26.5, compared to Englewood’s 62.5, and where Rogers was named a “Top Ten Place to Live” in Forbes Magazine.

“There were a handful of places that sounded nice,” Sydna said, “but we just decided to ‘pin the tail’ on Fayetteville.”

Tom said that it was the White River’s history of world-record-sized fish that finalized Northwest Arkansas as the family’s new home.

In October 2010, on the weekend of Bikes, Blues and BBQ, Fayetteville’s annual motorcycle festival, Tom and Sydna made their inaugural trip to Fayetteville to drop their oldest son, Bruce, off to live with Lichlyter in order to get settled before the entire family moved with all of their belongings.

“We were a little overwhelmed with the bikes,” Sydna said. “Our first impression was memorable, to say the least.”

Tom had seen a website with a few pictures of an available rental home online, and sent Bruce over to peek in the windows to make sure it was livable. Bruce gave his family a good report, and as of Thanksgiving, one month after dropping Bruce off, the family had a home rented in Fayetteville.

“We came home to a place we’d never been before,” Tom said, citing the lyric from John Denver’s “Rocky Mountain High.”

The family celebrated Thanksgiving in Fayetteville as they reflected on what led them from Englewood to Northwest Arkansas.

Dan said that in transitioning to a new high school across the country, finding friends was the hardest aspect that took weeks of work.

Two months later, in January 2012, the family started selling off many of their things they had brought with them from Florida in order to pay for living expenses. It was then that Tom saw the show “Storage Wars” on television, catapulting him and his wife into the world of storage auctions.

“It was really scary getting into it,” Tom said. “I started this and that for anything we needed money for. It’s a lot of work and you’ve got to dig down and get dirty, but it’s what holds us up.”

The Masses offer prices on entire storage units that have been left unattended after a given amount of time. After winning a bid, Tom and Sydna then go to the process of putting items from the storage unit on Ebay and Craigslist in order to make a profit. They donate everything they don’t sell to a local thrift store so nothing is wasted.

While holding conversation with guests in the house, Tom dashes to the house phone as soon as a ring is heard. “We got the grand piano!” Tom joyfully says upon his return to the family room. “The church said they’d give it to us. They want to support our ministry.”

Tom explains in his living room how in a unit he bought for $150, he had a bed that he sold for $450. He adds that people are more willing to pay more for items in Northwest Arkansas than anyone ever would in Englewood. He and Sydna explain the whole process of how their storage-war life supports their primary goal of their post-abortion ministry.

Sydna’s website for Ramah International gets up to 30,000 hits per month. She’s written a book on post-abortion healing, “Her Choice to Heal: Finding Spiritual and Emotional Peace After Abortion”, and receives 20 to 30 phone calls per month from young women considering abortion, whom she counsels and leads to nearby pregnancy centers.

“God had a plan in this whole thing,” Tom says. “Fayetteville is definitely where God wanted us. Our boys wouldn’t be the same if we hadn’t moved.”

The Masses remember their first winter in Fayetteville in January 2011. After moving to a town they’d never visted, into a house they’d never seen in person, and into a life where there was no definite income, they experienced something they hadn’t seen in a long time. Over 20 inches of snow.

Their son Dan remembers playing outside, even though their neighbors told them how abnormal the amount of snow was.

Dan says he loves the colors of fall in Fayetteville, something he never saw in Florida.

Sydna is working on a second book, and she and Tom are looking into expanding their ministry to women in prisons soon.

Arkansas now. How they never know how the ministry will be funded month to month. How they sell items out of their living room that somehow manage to pay their bills.

Dan, now a student at the U of A, gets a ride back to his dorm from his home across town. He talks about all he’s been thankful for over the past two years. How every year, around the time of Thanksgiving, he’ll never not give thanks for the painstaking times that lead him to a new life in Northwest Arkansas.

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