Penn State Football

‘It’s what the team needs’: Exploring the roots of Penn State safety Marcus Allen’s legacy

I gave Penn State my all says Marcus Allen

Penn State safety Marcus Allen talks about the upcoming senior day game.
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Penn State safety Marcus Allen talks about the upcoming senior day game.

In the shadow of Prince George County’s four-pillared courthouse rests a tavern with painted white brick and a green awning hanging over the entrance. The Old Towne Inn is a five-, maybe six-, minute drive down Brown Station Road to Marcus Allen’s high school.

Marcus’ father, Shawn, is a regular here. More times than not, after Friday night games at Dr. Henry A. Wise Jr. High School — back when Allen was still a baby-faced teenager with potential — the family would gather here to reflect on wins and enjoy BBQ ribs.

“It feels like it was yesterday that we drove him up there,” Shawn said, referring to Penn State between bites of coleslaw. “So much has happened in such a relatively short period of time.

“I still can’t wrap my mind around the fact that Marcus is in the record books for tackles at Penn State. Penn State. That’s rich football tradition and history. He’s in the record books? That’s unbelievable.”

The DMV — the Washington, D.C., suburbs — is where the Nittany Lion legend was born. It’s here, at the tavern and the surrounding area, that formed Marcus — that helped turn him into a Penn State safety, which is turning him into an NFL prospect. It’s here where the story of Allen begins, where it led to his 43-start-and-counting college career and where it gave way to his 308 career tackles, which ranks sixth all-time at Penn State.

The numbers may surprise the casual fan — he’s the only non-linebacker in the top 10 and is 36 stops shy of No. 3 — but it’s not a shock to the Maryland fans who still root for the blue and white. Allen, a known jokester and respected tackler, has been a focal point of the defense for as long as James Franklin has stocked his closet with blue ties.

But Saturday will be the last time Beaver Stadium patrons have the chance to appreciate his bell-ringing blows. Two-hundred miles away from the Olde Towne Inn, Senior Day is here — and so is the lovable, curly haired safety’s final game in Happy Valley.

Marcus, with a signature wide smile, said after Wednesday’s practice, “I gave everything to this school.”

And those back home — the ones supporting him in PG County — know that better than most.

Flags of colleges across the country — from Howard to Pepperdine — lined the walls of Wise’s main hallway, a long walk to the school’s bustling sun-splashed cafeteria.

Just outside stood Deborah Royer, the assistant principal, questioning where students were off to before receiving a bear hug from Shawn Allen.

“Now,” Allen laughed, “she’s an Ohio State fan.”

Royer looked to the tile floor with a grin.

“He got me with that blocked field goal,” she said.

Yes, that blocked field goal.

The one that helped change the direction of Penn State’s program last season. The one that turned Beaver Canyon into bedlam. The one that Penn State and Ohio State fans alike will never forget.

“But as soon as it was over,” Royer said with a nod, “I sent him a text.”

As Royer brought up Marcus’ shining moment — one that’ll get him free drinks in State College for the rest of time — a proverbial light bulb flashed above Allen’s backward cap.

“Oooh, I’ve got something to show you,” he said with the giddiness of a kid on Christmas morning.

To the right at the cafeteria, past a crowded corridor and past the weight room, lay five nearly empty trophy cases. On the top shelf of one, Marcus’ 2014 signing day placard sat behind a framed photo of the block. Across the top of the picture read “UPSET CITY,” with Marcus’ outstretched arms and body leaping into the “C.” One of Allen’s gloves from that play accompanied the photo, as did the score.

Penn State 24, Ohio State 21.

“It was euphoric. I’ve never felt that way,” Shawn said of watching his son further endear himself to Penn State fans. “That was a unique feeling. It was mind-blowing.”

As Shawn talked about the framed photo — a gift from father to son — Wise head coach DaLawn Parrish hobbled into the lobby holding his phone in one hand and a pizza box in the other while balancing a walking crutch.

The boisterous 40-year-old coach led the way through the Pumas’ yellow and blue locker room, into his cluttered office. A tipped-over McCafe cup, a bag of basketballs and open box of Frisbees exemplified the home away from home for Parrish, who doubles as a PE teacher.

After grabbing a folding chair and taking a seat, the door was shut, so Parrish could enjoy his veggie pizza and memories of Marcus.

In May 2011, Parrish walked out of his classroom and was taken aback. He saw a familiar face, a curly-haired kid standing at 6-foot, strolling through the white-walled halls.

“I was like, ‘Who the hell is this tall dude? Oh that’s Marcus? Oh that’s him,’ ” the coach said. “That was some David Robinson s***. How’d that happen?”

Allen, a 5-foot-8 freshman linebacker on junior varsity, grew four inches in a matter of months. When Parrish saw him, he was pulled into a classroom and asked to backpedal.

“I envisioned safety,” Parrish added, leaning back in his chair, sitting in front of four jersey racks. Marcus’ father, a coach on JV at the time, didn’t want his son making the jump to varsity yet.

“But I go to DaLawn, ‘I’m going to trust you,’ ” Shawn said. “And everything unfolded the way it was supposed to.”

It clicked from the get-go. Allen had an interception in his first game on varsity and ended his sophomore season second on the team in tackles.

Even though Marcus’ confidence wasn’t totally there yet — “his mind hadn’t matured into his body,” Parrish said — the varsity coach saw what few did: Allen, a passionate player who flew around the ball, was bound to be a Division-I safety.

“He’s basically a linebacker with footwork,” Parrish said. “When you’re a little dude, you’ve got to prove you can play. If you’re a big dude, you’ve got to prove you can’t play. ... Now all of a sudden you’re blessed with big-dude size? Oh s***. You’ve got problems.”

The problems faced by Wise’s opponents were obvious in 2012. Allen’s 70 tackles, 10 pass breakups and three picks led the Pumas to a 14-0 season and Maryland 4A State Championship.

In the title game, a 12-7 hard-hitting affair against Quince Orchard, Allen racked up 11 tackles. He even inspired a fan in the crowd.

Anthony Lytton — a four-star junior defensive back at Wise who’s committed to play for Florida State — was in attendance to witness the old-school, defensive battle. A sixth-grader at the time, Lytton said that game, and that performance by Allen, “was one of the reasons why” he chose to attend and play for Wise.

“His energy,” Lytton said, shaking his head. “When he’s making big plays, he gets the whole crowd into it. Dancing, having fun. It’s what the team needs. That’s why a lot of people like to be around him.”

Back at the corner tavern, as Marcus’ sister ordered a scoop of vanilla ice cream for her 3-year-old daughter Dee-Dee, Shawn found himself taking another step toward realizing the end of his son’s Penn State career.

“There’s a sense of innocence we’re going to lose once he leaves,” the father acknowledged. “No more cupcakes. No more emails of, ‘The boys are coming in this gate.’ It’s done.”

But not quite. Senior Day is Saturday, followed by a trip to Maryland — where the Allen cheering section will be out in full-force — and then a probable New Year’s Six bowl appearance. There are a few more opportunities for parents like Shawn to see Marcus and the veterans enter the stadium.

Even still, Shawn called this season a “huge struggle,” savoring the end of Marcus’ career while simultaneously looking ahead.

Of course, the Allens could’ve been in this situation last year. Marcus and his father met with four agencies after the 2016 season, while the safety received more than a few second- and third-round draft grades from NFL scouts and executives.

Marcus has an NFL future. Everyone understands that.

Look no further than the halls of Wise.

Leaving Parrish’s office, Shawn was greeted by a pair of familiar faces. Near the exit doors stood Ernest Green, a security guard who’s been at Wise since 2009, and JV basketball coach Daryl Carroln.

Carroln bellowed out, “Dallas, that’s where he’s going. We need him.”

Green quipped: “Nah, nah, Miami. We really need him.”

The Cowboys and Dolphins fans went back-and-forth discussing which franchise required Allen’s talent more.

But wherever he lands, Green, Carroln and everyone else at Wise and in Prince George County will pull for him. They have for years.

The Olde Towne Inn has hosted “Marcus Allen Watch Parties” for a couple years now. Donnell Long — the Inn’s owner and a longtime friend of the Allens — said 40 or 50 people coordinate with each other to meet and cheer on the hometown kid.

“To watch him grow from this little kid to being on the verge of stardom is great,” Long said. “It’s inspiring for our community.”

Added Carroln: “Everybody in that room is supporting one person and his character. He’s a good young man. When you see kids doing things like that, you want to root for him. The type of kid he is, he’s shooting for the moon.”

He’s always been that kid, too. He’s always had lofty goals. When he was 9 years old, he carved, “Marcus Allen is going to the NFL,” in his bed frame.

Whatever happens when the soon-to-be prospect reaches the next level, Shawn knows Marcus will be the same person he was then, at Wise and at Penn State.

When Marcus walks out of the Beaver Stadium tunnel for a final time on Saturday, he’ll be emotional. “That’s me,” he said. “That’s just my love for the game.”

His days at Penn State are numbered, but the story of Marcus Allen is unfinished.

He realizes that — and so do those who pull for him back in the DMV.

“Everybody loves him,” Parrish said. “The cameras are going to follow him around all the time. This dude might be the spokesman and salesman for every goddamn product.”

Added Shawn: “The kind of legacy he’s going to leave behind is not to take everything so seriously. It’s the making everyone around him feel good, legacy. That’s important, and it’s going to be hard to replace.”

John McGonigal: 814-231-4630, @jmcgonigal9

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