Jep Irwin was surprised by the timing but not the outcome.
The head coach at Lassiter High School had a good feeling four-star safety Derrik Allen would ultimately chose Notre Dame to play college ball, Irwin just wasn’t sure when that call would get made.
“I knew that Clemson, Ohio State, Georgia, Penn State and Notre Dame were kind of his top five,” Irwin said. “He narrowed it down to about five and he did some visiting during the academic year. I know that Notre Dame had always been high on his list but he played it close to the vest. I was surprised by the timing of it, he just decided he wanted to make a decision and he felt right about Notre Dame ever since he visited there, but I'm not surprised in his decision.”
Allen, a 6-foot-2, 206-pounder from Lassiter, Ga., visited Notre Dame last spring and left South Bend with an offer.
He remained in close contact with the Irish coaching staff and pulled the trigger on Monday night.
“I know there were a lot of things about Notre Dame he likes,” Irwin said. “Obviously it was the tremendous academics and the football tradition is second to none. His parents, mom went to an Ivy League school and his dad went to West Point, so they were very focused on academics and everything that the school can offer, not just the football program.”
Allen, a starter at Lassiter since his freshman season, will give the Irish a versatile player in the defensive backfield.
“He can play over the tight end, he can play the slot receiver as a nickel safety or he can run the quarter scheme playing Cover 4,” Irwin said. “His size and strength and athletic ability lend to him being very versatile. With a wide variety of offenses Notre Dame is going to play, they're going to play everybody from Navy with the triple option to Pitt, who is a little bit different, and they're going to play some wide open offense too with Clemson and others, he has athletic ability that usually guys his size don't have.”
Despite his success at Lassiter over the past three seasons, Irwin believes Allen has the potential to develop into an elite college football player.
“As a freshman he started at corner as a 14-year old and he's still really young,” Irwin said. “It's going to be really amazing to see where he is when he's 19 or 20 years old. He's still just 16 halfway through his junior year. He's been blessed with great size and also he's a great competitor. He works really hard for us. His off the field intangibles coupled with his on the field ability, because of his size and athletic ability, are really going to help him do something really special in college.”
As a freshman, Allen played cornerback at 180 pounds. Since then, he has grown more than an inch and added 20 pounds to his frame.
“Freshman year, he was kind of like a puppy. He had the frame but he only weighed about 180. Now he's over 200 pounds and really filled out,” Irwin said. “I've seen him develop physically but he's also a complete player. He adjusted to 7A football here in the Atlanta area, which is pretty stout. He's a physical presence now. That’s the biggest thing I've seen and the consistency. We would see flashes of what he does every down now as a junior, we saw flashes of it as a freshman. He's more consistent play in and play out trying to be a dominant player.”
Allen completed his junior season with 59 tackles, one sack, two forced fumbles and two interceptions, returning one of them for a touchdown. He also broke up seven passes.
He landed 34 scholarship offers before committing to Notre Dame.
“Every coach that has come through here, they loved his size and his versatility that he can cover backs, tight ends and receivers, but also that he can play the run too,” Irwin said. “Most defenses are going to play five defensive backs now so you've got to have somebody close to the line that can play the run and tackle the running back when needed. He's a safety with corner cover skills, which is very valuable. Lots of times offenses now are going to try to find out who the weak pass defender is and they're going to try to line somebody up in the slot like Clemson did against Alabama. They threw it to that slot guy over and over. He can play that role very well. I'm not saying that's where Notre Dame will use him but he's got the size to do that and still come up and play the run.”
Scout.com ranks Allen as the 129th best prospect and the 11th best safety in the recruiting class of 2018.