Jackson — When Deuce McAllister was riding with his dad in an 18-wheeler across America some 20 years ago, he had no idea that one day, not only would he become an NFL star running back for the New Orleans Saints, but he would also be recognized as a broadcaster and a savvy investor/co-owner of his dad’s trucking company, owner of automobile dealerships, real estate developer — and a savior to many troubled kids.
“I remember going on runs with my dad when I was six years old,” said McAllister. “A lot of the times, I’d crawl back in the sleeper in the middle of the night while he was driving. It was definitely an experience to learn from.”
During Super Bowl XL weekend, McAllister was on the air for ESPN, reminding folks about the rebuilding efforts along the Gulf Coast, particularly in New Orleans and Mississippi.
“Even though it doesn’t get as much coverage as it did once the hurricane hit, there are still a lot of people in the region who need a lot of help,” he said.
Born in Jackson to Carl and Cornelia McAllister and raised in Ludlow, McAllister made history at Ole Miss as the school’s only running back to rush more than 1,000 yards in three seasons. Selected by the New Orleans Saints in the first round (23rd overall) of the 2001 NFL draft, he started in four of 16 games and served as the Saints’ primary kick returner as a rookie.
While his career made noise, McAllister made his mark quietly as a businessman. Before he decided which businesses to invest in, he first found partners, including Vanderbilt Law School alum Matt Bataille, that he trusts and who share a strong work ethic.
Treating customers right
“If you find people that treat others right, they’ll treat customers right,” said McAllister, who turned 27 on December 27. “That’s the key to success in life in general.”
After years of rumblings about the King Edward Hotel in downtown Jackson being revitalized, McAllister invested with Bataille and David Watkins in the venture, and started to bring about change, despite red-tape obstacles. “Right now, we have a contract with the City of Jackson and we’re hoping for a friendlier approach from Mayor (Frank) Melton,” said Bataille. “We’ve remained ready to go at a moment’s notice, waiting for the city to do its part with grant applications. We just met with Jimmy Heidel and he’s explained we’re waiting for the money to come into the city, which we understand should be available inside the next 60 days.”
Plans still call for the landmark structure to be converted into a mixed-use facility, with a restaurant and retail stores on the ground floor, upper floor high-end condominiums and possibly a boutique hotel to service the convention center that is being built.
Even though McAllister hasn’t acquired the Standard Life Building, he’s been vocal about wanting to see it restored also. “That’s a project we’d love to complete after we get on our way with the King Edward,” said Bataille.
The King Edward and Standard Life projects are key elements in the revitalization of downtown Jackson, said McAllister, who also has developed several residential properties in New Orleans.
“Obviously, there’s some risk involved, but if people are willing to commit to the area, it would definitely help the City of Jackson continue to thrive,” he said.
McAllister is also an investor in a trucking company, where his dad primarily brokers deals these days instead of driving an 18-wheeler.
In July 2004, Nissan authorized McAllister to sell the Mississippi-made vehicles, and Deuce McAllister Nissan, located at 955 Interstate 20 South Frontage Road, officially opened January 28. “We couldn’t launch our Nissan dealership until the Gray Daniels group completed construction of their new dealership in Brandon,” explained Bataille. “Once that occurred, we immediately bulked up our inventory and opened our operation.”
The same day, McAllister also opened Deuce McAllister Jaguar-Volkswagen-Audi, a dealership located at 5295 Interstate 55 North Frontage Road that he acquired in December. On hand at the ribbon cutting: a few NFL friends signing autographs. Plans are to relocate the dealership across I-55 at the former Winn-Dixie location.
“Essentially, the building is a big box right now, wide open on the inside with a few partitions and one big open space,” said Bataille. “We’ll build individual showrooms for VW, Audi, Volvo and later Land Rover, and end up with a destination in Mississippi for experiencing high line imports.”
McAllister won’t stop there. He’s actively seeking other franchises to fit well with his automotive portfolio. He has secured property at 8022 U.S. 49 in Gulfport, the site of an existing VW dealership, said Bataille.
‘Building a team…’
“Despite his success, Deuce’s slogan, ‘building a team, one commitment at a time,’ is more than a phrase,” said Bataille. “It’s a philosophy that’s important to Deuce and one that customers will find they can trust and share with others.”
Through the Catch 22 Foundation, McAllister raises money for children in Mississippi and Louisiana through a variety of events. He sponsors Yards for Kids, an annual free football clinic, Shopping with Deuce, Deucedays and other projects. He recently appeared on “Wheel of Fortune” during NFL Players Week to benefit the foundation, which pledges that dollars raised in Mississippi remain in Mississippi and money raised in Louisiana stays in Louisiana.
“We’ve donated countless hours and countless items, from backpacks filled with schoolbooks to a vehicle to provide lunches to the Waveland School District,” said Bataille. “What’s so neat about Deuce is that he’s done these things under the radar with no press around.”
Charity is such a vital component of the corporate vision that one of the requisites to work for McAllister Enterprises of Mississippi requires taking an active role in a civic community-minded service, said Bataille.
“We often pay employees for their time if they’re volunteering during working hours so they can fulfill those commitments,” he said.
On the field?
McAllister, who was sidelined for most of the football season with an ACL injury, said his rehabilitation is “coming along good.”
“Obviously, it’s a long process,” he said. “There are some good days and bad days. I had an opportunity to sit down with a lot of guys who’ve had this surgery and they said not to get frustrated, that it takes time. I’m willing to put in the work and get back to my prime self. I’ll be ready for this season. That won’t be a question.”
When challenges arise, McAllister thinks back to his dad’s advice. “It’s OK to fail, but get back up and continue trying until you succeed,” he said.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at Lynne.Jeter@gmail.com.