Chicago Martin Luther King product Jeff Allen was under the recruiting radar before he decided to transform his body. When he lost some excess baggage, his natural athleticism became obvious enough for Illinois to offer him a scholarship.
He arrived on the Illinois campus second semester last year still needing to lose some baby fat and improve his conditioning. But he embraced Strength & Conditioning Coach Lou Hernandez's program for him, and his play has improved accordingly. Jeff can definitely feel a difference.
"I feel great. Last year at this time, I don't think I was in the best shape. This year I think I'm in much better shape."
Allen struggled during his first spring ball last year, but he learned more each day. When Ryan Palmer went out with a broken foot last fall, Jeff was inserted into the lineup at right tackle. Despite growing pains, he held his own.
"I didn't think I would start. I didn't think I would redshirt, but I thought I would play some. I just improved every day in practice."
It is rare for a true freshman to see playing time on the offensive line. Normally, several years of weight lifting and experience are necessary to prepare a lineman for the rigors of major college ball.
Now, Jeff is an established veteran, and he is already a spokesman for his unit. When asked about the needs of the offense, he spoke about the entire group and not just the offensive line.
"Our number one goal is ball security. We had a lot of turnovers last year. The new offensive coordinator feels that if we cut down on turnovers we can have more wins."
Limiting the discussion to the line, the 6'-5", 310 pounder described the improvement most needed by the linemen.
"We're trying to improve our run blocking and get our running game going. Coach Gilbert has us working on the boards a lot and exposing our hips and getting our hips into the run blocking game."
The offensive line had to undergo a coaching change that might have had a deleterious effect on his group's psyche. But having Joe Gilbert replace Eric Wolford proved no problem for Allen and the line despite some differences in style.
"Coach G is a more of a laid back guy. Coach Wolford is really intense. Coach Gilbert is more of a technician. He slows things down and explains things."
The offensive line must function as if it were one person instead of five. To be effective, everyone needs to be on the same page at all times. Jeff and his teammates have already begun the unifying process.
"It started in the winter program, and we started bonding. We went bowling and stuff. We want to be one unit this year."
Allen says he has made strides in his run blocking.
"My run blocking has improved because I'm more physical this year due to my increased strength."
Now that Jeff Allen has transformed his body, he has proven capable of playing the all-important left tackle position. The left tackle must protect the quarterback's blind side from highly athletic defensive ends. Allen has been shifted to the left side, and he now appears to be a fixture there.
He had the athleticism from birth, but hard work and dedication have made Jeff Allen into a potential star for the Illini.