Marcus Allen could’ve left Penn State.
He could’ve declared for the NFL draft after the Rose Bowl — after capping a 110-tackle season — and no one would’ve blamed him. The safety could’ve signed a multi-million dollar contract and no one would’ve batted an eye.
Instead, Allen — once a wide-eyed, bubbly freshman — decided to return as a seasoned veteran on Penn State’s defense, bringing along younger players this spring and working to establish another championship-caliber unit.
“I believed it was the right decision, and I know it was the right decision coming back here and playing with my teammates one last year,” Allen said Wednesday after Penn State’s fifth practice of the spring. “We’ve got to get it done.”
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For a senior who likes dancing and friendly trash-talking as much as Allen, he can get serious rather quickly. After cracking a joke about tight end Mike Gesicki hitting the blocking sled behind him, Allen’s smile disappeared as he preached the importance of getting extra work in after practice.
Allen understands just how much that mind-set is needed. Franklin and his staff are tasked with replacing Malik Golden, a 17-game starter at safety, to work alongside him. Whether it’s Ayron Monroe, Nick Scott, Troy Apke or John Petrishen, Penn State will feature a new, full-time starting safety — and Allen is setting the example this spring.
“After every practice we do extra work, as far as footwork, we hit the jugs, do deep balls,” Allen said in an even tone. “When we’re not practicing, safeties come in and get some extra work.”
Anything to improve as the Nittany Lions creep toward the midway point of camp.
Allen knows, too, that he’s not just leading the charge for his teammates; he needs to get better before leaving Penn State.
Dan Shonka, Ourlads’ general manager and a national scout with four decades of experience, said it was a smart decision for Allen to return to Penn State for his final year of eligibility, citing his need to improve in deep coverage.
“He had a really good year last season and is a good football player,” Shonka said, “but this draft is loaded and safety is probably as strong as its ever been, so it was a good move for him to go back.”
And Franklin welcomed Allen back with open arms. Not only is he helping out guys like Monroe and Petrishen, but the Maryland native is bringing along a pair of early enrollees — cornerback Lamont Wade and linebacker Brelin Faison-Walden.
Allen knew as a veteran, it was his time to help out the duo.
“The game is kind of fast when you first step out there,” Allen said, “but when you have that big brother helping you, telling you that you’ve got it and helping you on what you did wrong on that play, it helps you a lot.”
Allen, when asked about the early enrollees, recalled being mentored by former safeties like Adrian Amos, Ryan Keiser and Jordan Lucas. He remembered how it felt to go through the offseason as a freshman with a laundry list of growing pains.
To Allen, it feels like yesterday that he was a freshman, but he’s matured over the years.
Allen returned to Penn State for one more season to not only win, but also take on the challenge of being a leader — a responsibility he’s living up to so far.
“Time moves fast, and it doesn’t wait for anybody,” the senior said with a sharp smile. “I’m just ready to take that role.”