Thursday, March 21, 2013
2014 S Allen thrives off position change
By Josh Moyer
Marcus Allen walked briskly through the hallways of Upper Marlboro (Md.) Wise on his way to the varsity coach's classroom.
He didn't know he was just minutes away from a conversation that would set his football future into motion, that would allow him to gain nearly 20 scholarship offers before the end of his junior year. For now, near the end of his freshman season, he just knew coach DaLawn Parrish wanted to chat with him.
A four-inch growth spurt helped Marcus Allen go from junior varsity linebacker to starting free safety on the varsity squad. Now the rising senior is one of the top prospects in Maryland.
He could feel his heart thumping in his chest, and he wondered what Parrish could possibly have to say. Was it good? Was it bad? Was it about an injury that allowed him to play just four JV games? Was it about a teammate?
"Everybody gets nervous when Coach Parrish wants to talk to you," Allen said. "Everybody."
The coach motioned the freshman linebacker inside, and the two stood across from one another. Parrish, a former defensive back at Wake Forest, told Allen -- who had undergone a four-inch growth spurt, from 5-foot-8 to 6-1 -- that he wanted him to move up to varsity.
Allen shook his head. He was hesitant. He had played in just four games, and scholarships weren't on his mind at that point; playing with his friends was. And when Parrish mentioned moving to safety, Allen couldn't believe it. He had no experience with that position at all.
"A lot of times, young men are apprehensive," Parrish said. "They don't know just how good they really are. And I knew he was going to be special."
Parrish began sketching out Cover-2 diagrams on the dry eraseboard behind him. It might as well have been advanced algebra because, Allen admitted, he had no idea what he was looking at. He wasn't even sure what a safety's role was.
The coach, a man with closely cropped hair and a thin goatee, then asked Allen to backpedal right there in the classroom. He laughed slightly when Allen clumsily tried to run backward. Allen didn't agree to move up right then, but it was a start.
"Honestly, I think my whole story and everything, well, I wouldn't have been here if it wasn't for that right there -- if it wasn't for Coach Parrish," said Allen, a 2014 prospect who holds offers from the likes of Penn State, Pitt, Georgia Tech, Nebraska and Wake Forest. "I don't know what my future would be now. I might still be playing outside linebacker."
Parrish wouldn't give up on Allen. When 7-on-7 tournaments began, the head coach again spoke with Allen, Allen's father and the JV coach. He convinced them to try the greenhorn out at safety for one game. They agreed.
Allen felt awkward and out of place when he stepped foot on the turf. He might as well have been playing hockey because he was competing on pure instinct. He had just learned to backpedal a few weeks before in a classroom, and he didn't yet understand coverages.
The linebacker-turned-safety didn't react until the quarterback had already thrown the ball in the air. But as the game progressed, and Allen relied more on his quickness and instincts, he began to believe Parrish and believe in himself. In his first game at safety, during that 7-on-7, he wound up with three interceptions. Allen was more surprised than Parrish.
"I think he believed in me more than I believed in myself," Allen said. "I felt weird, I felt dumb, and I was clueless ... but I had three interceptions."
Parrish approached him right after the game, minutes after telling his father about his unparalleled footwork and hand-eye coordination. It was clear Allen was a big fish in a small pond.
"I think you're ready to move up now," he remembered telling Marcus.
"Thanks, Coach. You think so?"
Parrish did, and Allen finally relented. He trusted the coach. Allen told him he wasn't afraid to hit, and Parrish cautioned he might see immediate playing time. He was third on the preseason depth chart, but he impressed the staff so much that they moved one player to linebacker and another to cornerback.
Allen, the sophomore who initially figured he' be playing JV linebacker, was going to start at free safety. And, in his first varsity game, he came down with a pick.
"We knew he belonged," Parrish said. "He could've been a small linebacker but, if you put him at safety, we knew he'd grow into it. And it's better to be a big safety than a small linebacker."
Allen soaked up as much knowledge as he could that first year, but he said he didn't become comfortable at safety until this past season. He finished with 69 tackles, nine pass deflections, two interceptions and had a hand in four fumbles.
College coaches began noticing his quickness and the way the safety hit like a linebacker. And before long he became one of the most coveted prospects in Maryland. Those coaches saw the same potential that Parrish eyed a year or two before them.
And, now that Allen finally knows he belongs, he's eager to see what awaits both he and Parrish in his senior season as a safety.
"I just want to make it," Allen said. "I'm going to do my best."