Good food, good company and good meetings are why DeMatha Catholic (Hyattsville, Md.) running back and Penn State Class of 2014 commit Mark Allen graded his official visit to University Park an A+. But there was more to it than that.
The 5-foot-7, 190-pound Maryland speedster was the first prospect to commit to PSU for this class, offering a verbal pledge over a year ago that he's stuck with since. Between that fateful October 2012 day and now, the back has spent plenty of time around the Lions and their program, actively helped recruit some of its top targets, and got to know some of its players.
So when he descended upon a snowy Happy Valley, he knew a lot of the people he'd see over the Friday-Sunday visit, and wanted to chat with some others. He did all that, and more, while building a bond with his classmates and future teammates.
"The food was great," Allen said. "They showed us around the Lasch football building, showed us the stadium, and we got to talk to some of the guys that aren't committed and hang out with our hosts.
"I had a one-on-one with Coach [Bill] O'Brien and Coach [Charles] London, which was fun. I'd grade it an A+."
Allen was hosted by former DeMatha standout and current tight end Brent Wilkerson, a wise choice considering the duo are not far removed from their days of riding to high school together each and every morning. The back referred to Wilkerson as a big brother, noting they lived all of 10 minutes away from each other in Maryland.
Of course, Wilkerson was not the only player Allen chatted with throughout the weekend. Two of the most important, Mount Lebanon (Pittsburgh, Pa.) offensive tackle Alex Bookser and Ocean Lakes (Virginia Beach, Va.) defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi, are both still in the decision-making process.
Unlike Penn State's 2012 official visit weekend, which netted four verbal commits to the Class of 2013, there were no commitments to immediately come out of this weekend. Yet, there wasn't a lack of effort from Allen and others to put their best foot forward with two of the higher targets left on Penn State's 2014 board.
"I was telling them Penn State is just like a brotherhood, and we're a program on the rise and we really need them," Allen said. "Coach O'Brien was telling us with this 2014 class, and then the 2015 class, he thinks we have a chance of winning it all and building a championship caliber team. So we did what we could to get them on board."
Both spent plenty of time around Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg and tight end Adam Breneman, Allen said, which should come as no surprise to those who actively follow the Lions recruiting scene. Hackenberg and Breneman were vital in tying together Penn State's Class of 2013.
The visit began with a check-in and dinner period Friday night, before the recruits spent time with their host players before returning for a night's sleep at the Nittany Lion Inn on campus. Saturday was filled with tours and meetings, which is where Allen said he learned more about Penn State's plans for him. Beside touring Beaver Stadium, campus, and learning more about academics and strength and conditioning program, the senior also chatted with O'Brien and London on day two of the visit.
"They said they can't wait to get me up there, and they told me they see me like Danny Woodhead, who played for the [New England] Patriots and now plays for the [San Diego] Charges," Allen said. "They said they'd find a way to fit me in like that, and said they need someone that has some juice and can bring some juice to the team and special teams. They feel like I can do that and be a huge attribute."
Allen said both coaches are interested to see what he can do in the return game, which the prospect said he did as a junior in high school but not as a senior. They also delved into their thoughts on whether he would redshirt.
"I feel like my vision is great, and I just feel like I can make that play if it is needed," Allen said of returning kicks. "I feel like I have that juice they need, and I feel good about that.
"It all just depends on how I come in, and how I'm going to handle the playbook," he added when asked about redshirting. "Blocking-wise is very important, and my head coach says I'm the best one [on his high school team]. I just have to keep improving; there's always room for improvement, and if I come into camp and ball out, then I might not redshirt. But if I'm not doing so well, I might redshirt."
Allen will partially divert his offseason to the indoor track season, while continuing to work football lifts and workouts into his daily routine. He said that practice is Monday through Wednesday, while football activities followed Wednesday's track practice and continue into Thursday and Friday.
He'll do it by working out with his classmate and Virginia Tech commit Cameron Phillips. All the while, he'll continue to build a brotherhood among his fellow Penn State commits, aiming to build it similar to how Breneman and Hackenberg helped construct the Class of 2013.
"I'm working a lot on my explosiveness, and of course I'm in the gym a lot," Allen said. "[The visit] was great. We're starting to form our brotherhood for the next four years up there, and I got to learn a little bit about the players, hang out with them and see how they are. It was great."