Football star to family business man

Posted: August 18th, 2017 | Features, Lifestyle, Sports, Top Stories | No Comments

By Doug Curlee | Editor at Large

Former Aztec, Charger Jim Allison looks back at his interesting careers

When Don Coryell was hired to bring San Diego State football out of what was called the “small college” ranks and into the big time, Jim Allison says Coryell talked him into passing up offers from the likes of Texas, UCLA and the big schools.

Former Aztec Jim Allison has gone from the gridiron to local business. (Photo by Doug Curlee)

“Coach knew where he wanted the program to go, and told me I could help get them there. He could talk you into anything if he put his mind to it, and he did with me.”

Coryell got Allison out of El Camino College, where he’d gone after a storied high school career at Redondo Union High School.

At the time, the Aztecs were competing in the California Collegiate Athletic Association against schools like San Jose State, San Francisco State, Los Angeles State — small schools, and most of which no longer compete in football.

In an era where “small college” usually meant “small players,” Allison was an exception.

At 6-foot-2-inches and 220 pounds, Allison as a tailback was as big as some of the other schools’ linemen. He also had running back speed. He could hurt you if he hit you.

How good was he? In the early 1960s, about the only major recordkeeping among small colleges was done by the sports wire services, Associated Press and United Press International.

“They kept the books, and they awarded me the 1964 small colleges national rushing championship. It was an honor I didn’t expect.”

Two years later, one year after Allison finished at SDSU, Coryell’s Aztecs won the small colleges national championship with a perfect 11-0 record. But by that time, Allison had moved on to the pros.

“In 1965, I got drafted twice — by the Minnesota Vikings of the NFL, and the San Diego Chargers of the AFL. I thought about playing in Minnesota in December, and I didn’t have any trouble at all making that choice,” Allison said.

Allison’s San Diego Chargers jersey (Photo by Doug Curlee)

Allison would spend four years with the Chargers. He was often used as a fullback, but could play tailback without much trouble, as he did for a number of games when starter Paul Lowe was injured.

A couple of years on other rosters told Allison his pro career was pretty much over, and it was time to decide what to do with the rest of his life.

“I kinda got into sales work, like a lot of guys do after they’re no longer active players. Eventually, I wound up selling landscaping services, and somehow, I got really interested in the actual creation of landscaping. I studied about soils and grasses and trees and plants, and it was fascinating- still is.

“It occurred to me that I could probably do this on my own, without working for someone else. So that’s what I did — bought a truck, hired some people, and went to work.”

Over the years, Allison Landscaping has grown into a successful family business, with Jim’s sons involved.

They do landscape design and construction, primarily for big clients — corporate types — but they will design and build your yard for you.

On Fridays, you can usually find Jim on a golf course, where he swears he’s shooting in the 70s.

You often see him out at lunch with his old mates from the Aztecs and the Chargers — Rod Dowhower, Gary Garrison, Mario Mendez … many more from the day.

Often at those gatherings, the topic of conversation is: “We’re all in the Aztec Hall of Fame, why isn’t Jim?”

It’s an interesting question that no one seems able to answer.

Mostly, though, you can see him at his Allied Gardens home, with his big collection of memorabilia from the world of sports. Jim’s a serious collector.

At 74. He’s pretty much at peace with life.

—Doug Curlee is Editor at Large. Reach him at

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