True Freshman Allen Holding His Own On O-Line

Offensive line is one of the most difficult positions on a football team. In most cases, several years of weight training and technique work are required for playing time at the major college level. So what true freshman Jeff Allen is accomplishing for the Illini at right tackle is rare indeed.

The 6'-4", 317 pound Allen graduated early from Chicago Martin Luther King High School and enrolled at Illinois last winter. The experience he gained in winter conditioning and spring ball gave him a chance to learn the position prior to fall workouts.

"That was one of the big reasons I came in early, to compete and try to get into the rotation.

"I've changed a lot. We didn't have as many linemen this spring, so I got a lot of reps. That's been helping me out now. When I first came, I got a taste of Josh Brent. A real good taste. But that's a part of the game, coming to college to get welcomed. Just keep improving every day."

While he hoped to play early, starts at Penn State and Michigan were beyond his dreams.

"I didn't expect to start, but you always set your goals high. I set my goals to start at some point. Coach Wolf (Eric Wolford) always told me I would have an opportunity to play, and here it is."

Those early memories against great players on the road will last a lifetime. Jeff played well, but he knows he still has much to learn.

"It was an exciting feeling. I appreciate my coaches and my teammates getting me ready to go into atmospheres like that. It's a great feeling, but I still have a lot of things to work on. I've got to step up.

"Going against Penn State, the d-end 59 (Aaron Maybin) was a speed rusher. At Michigan, 55 (Brandon Graham) was more power, and he fooled me alot during the game. Each week is a big adjustment. I went against some great ones the past two weeks. Maurice Evans and 59 at Penn State, and 55 at Michigan. It all comes with technique."

Allen' situation is a good example of the inconsistencies of ratings systems when evaluating high school athletes. Jeff was not rated highly by the recruiting gurus while in high school, but he was motivated to succeed.

"I don't get into things like that (ratings). My coaches knew what I could do, so that's all that matters."

Jeff was overweight as a high school junior, but he worked hard to improve his conditioning and drop some pounds so he could draw the attention of college recruiters.

"My junior year, I was about 335. That was a little heavy for my size, but I could still move. I was highly motivated to get in top shape because I wanted to get a Division 1 scholarship. Most of the coaches saw my playing ability when they saw me at camps. So it worked out for the best."

The intelligent and ambitious young man knows he must be in top shape to play offensive line at Illinois.

"In the spread, you've got to be in top shape. It's kind of like a running back. We do a lot of option, so we've got to run with the linebackers and chase a lot of people."

While Allen is doing great for a freshman, he knows he still has much to learn. He also knows he may be called upon to play a variety of positions throughout his career.

"I need to work on my footwork, opening up to get into blocks and holding onto them. Just overall everything. I was projected as a guard, but I'm an anchor man according to Coach Wolf. I can play anywhere on the line, tackle to tackle."

Offensive line play requires teamwork. No man is an island and must work in tandem with those next to him. For Jeff, right guard Jon Asamoah has been a great help to him.

"Jon has been helping me a lot, giving me the calls and making sure I have my head in the game. He doesn't let me zone out. He's doing a great job."

Jeff Allen is also doing the job in the classroom, posting a 3.1 grade average in general studies with plans to enter the Business school soon. He has awareness and maturity beyond his years, as his thoughts about the Michigan win and what lies ahead demonstrate.

"Yeah, the win gave is a big confidence boost. But that's in the past now. We're looking towards Minnesota and one game at a time, as Coach Zook would say. Hopefully, we can just win out the rest of these games."

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