Blue-Chip Athlete With a Warrior’s Heart
There are numerous reasons why Alabama is college football’s premier program, winners of four national championships in the past eight seasons. Those looking for a shortcut for understanding the Crimson Tide’s sustained excellence need only to study the character, film and background of a single player—defensive lineman extraordinaire Jonathan Allen.
Allen, at his very core, is the embodiment of today’s Alabama student-athlete, from the way he prepares to the way he performs on Saturdays. So, it goes to figure that if you unlock the quintessence of No. 93, you’ve gone a long way to learning how Bama has been so dominant for such a lengthy stretch.
Allen was shaped by a turbulent childhood that included stays in foster care as his father fought for custody of two young boys not being raised in a safe environment. Richard Allen, a sergeant first class when he retired from the Army, was granted full custody of his sons in 2004, when Jonathan was nine, creating a much-needed pathway for prosperity and stability. There were scars, sure, and sports became an important outlet for blowing off steam. But Allen, with the love of his family and the unending support of his older brother, Richard III, was too busy fulfilling dreams to ever spend too much time looking back.
Following a series of moves in the first decade of his life, Allen and his family settled down in Virginia, where he’d catch the attention of many schools, including Alabama, while playing for Stone Bridge High School. He accepted the offer to play for the Tide and Nick Saban, setting in motion a stellar career in Tuscaloosa that first met and then exceeded all expectations.
As a true freshman in 2013, Allen lettered in what would go down as a table-setting year in Kirby Smart’s defense. By Year 2, Allen was already a prominent member of the defensive line rotation, an uncommonly fast ascent for such a young athlete playing on a D with so much next-level talent. He finished second on the team in tackles for loss and sacks and earned First Team All-SEC, a harbinger of things to come in the second half of his college career.
It was in 2015 that Allen really began to turn the corner and evolve into one of the nation’s elite linemen. He upped his output to a team-best dozen sacks, including 11 against ranked opponents, and was once again named to the All-SEC First Team. Surely, Allen was off to the NFL, right? The league knew he was ready. The rest of the SEC couldn’t wait to see him go. Allen, though, had different plans, a nagging feeling of unfinished business and the desire to earn his degree. It was great news for his Tide legacy and an awful reality for the amateur blockers who’d have to face him in 2016.
This past year as a senior, Allen was an unstoppable 6-3, 294-pound force of nature in T-Town. All of the preparation, the dedication and the work ethic fused together in a 15-game encore performance for impatient NFL scouts and GMs. The team captain stood out once more on the country’s deepest defense, finishing with 69 tackles, 16 stops for loss, 10.5 sacks and a pair of scoop-and-scores. But to truly appreciate why Allen was a unanimous All-American and the 22nd recipient of the Chuck Bednarik Award, it’s imperative to peek below the surface of the numbers and watch his footage.
Allen jumps off film, because he does so many things well, which was evident in every game of the 2016 campaign. He’s the coveted defensive lineman who blends immense power with an explosive first step, a one-two punch that leaves opposing linemen without answers. As a student of the game who’s always looking for an edge, Allen’s fundamentals are impeccable. He plays with balance and a low center of gravity, and his swim move and violent hands allow him to quickly disengage from blockers. The result is a lineman so versatile and multifaceted that he’s as disruptive on the interior as he is off the edge.
In terms of the intangibles, well, Allen is in many ways the personification of what Saban has preached throughout his storied career, which is why he’s long been a personal favorite of the coach.
Allen is obviously physically gifted, evidenced by his point-of-attack strength and sudden closing speed. However, it’s his non-physical traits that have helped propel him to a different stratosphere of defensive dominance. What’s so compelling about Allen is that he’s the rare five-star athlete who still plays as if he’s a former walk-on with a chip on his shoulder.
Offensive linemen will neutralize Allen from time to time. But they will never outwork him, on gameday or during the offseason. Ever. Allen has an insatiable desire for success and a motor that will not quit. To take so much as a play off would be antithetical to his brand and his upbringing. He is relentless and instinctive, the byproduct of a father who instilled a sense of pride and accountability in his children.
While Allen is a singular being, his overall makeup and effort have directly impacted his teammates over the past four seasons at Alabama. He is a contagious Crimson Tide student-athlete who makes those around him want to be better. Allen is a leader by example, never needing to become vocal or animated to make a point. If the top defensive player in America is performing at maximum capacity, you better believe that the balance of the Bama roster will want to as well.
And losing? In a very Saban-esque approach to the game, Allen despises it more than he enjoys the trappings of a victory. And therein lies the greatest value of a player like Allen. He not only takes care of his own business, but he also does it with such diligence and consistency that everyone near him also strives for higher ground.
It turns out there are two distinctly different Jonathan Allens. Outside of football, he’s measured, stoic and in a constant pursuit of knowledge. He’s a thinking man, who earned his degree in financial planning last December. On the field, though, he operates with the determination and controlled ferocity of a defensive lineman who’ll start putting that financial planning knowledge to real good use in a few months. Yes, Allen was built by Bama, a program that continues to be a fertile pipeline to the pros. But he also helped build Bama with a selfless mindset for playing defense and winning games that meshes extraordinarily well with Saban’s time-tested philosophy in Tuscaloosa.
Winner: Chuck Bednarik Award – 2016 University of Alabama