The first time Upper Marlboro, Md., Wise head coach DaLawn Parrish saw Marcus Allen, two things were clear.
“He was only like, 5-foot-8,” Parrish said. “But he hit like a truck.”
Allen was playing linebacker for the program’s JV team then as a freshman. An injury cost him some of that season, but Parrish came across him again during the second semester of the school year.
Something else became clear after that interaction.
“One day, I’m in the hallway for my class, and Marcus comes walking by me,” Parrish recalled. “I’m telling you, he went from 5-foot-8 to 6-foot. I said, ‘Wait a minute, that’s not the same kid.’ ”
It was, and Allen went on to bulk up the rest of the winter. That led to a summer encounter between the head coach and player.
“I was like, wait a minute, this dude is too good to be on JV,” Parrish said. “I said, ‘It’s time you play varsity.’ ”
Then sophomore, Allen couldn’t believe it. He was similarly surprised when Parrish informed he would move to safety.
Turns out, Parrish had Allen’s progression nailed all along.
“His footwork was excellent, and I told him you’re going to grow into the position,” Parrish said. “I went to his father, and said he’s going to earn D-I offers.
“He started doing really well.”
The hard-hitting freshman blossomed into a 6-foot-2, 196-pound talent who held multiple offers before selecting Penn State last winter. He’s played in all four games of the 2014 season, recording two tackles and invaluable experience.
Much like in high school, he is making an impact early in his college career.
“Marcus Allen is a guy that’s playing on special teams,” head coach James Franklin said recently. “I think he needs to have a bigger role on defense and continue to help in that development and also keep our guys fresh for four quarters — for the fourth quarter and also late in the season.”
Allen was one of three young DBs to rotate in for first-half action with the starters in last weekend’s win over UMass, stepping in for Ryan Keiser at safety. He saw more extensive action in the second half, when the game was a blowout.
In all, Penn State has played seven true freshmen through a third of the season, and has utilized backups frequently in a never-ending attempt to keep as many bodies fresh, and healthy, as possible on a sanctions-reduced roster.
Some games, that means one of the freshman will get 10 snaps compared to a starter’s 30. Others, it might be close to half.
Regardless of the ratio, Allen and others will help down the road. That’s what the Lions are trying to ensure by rotating as much as possible.
“What you hope is that a guy goes in there on limited reps and has some success and builds the confidence of the coaches and himself and it grows from there,” Franklin said this week.