By Christina Rivers
Will Allen, S #26
Hometown: Dayton, OH
College: Ohio State
Experience: 9 years
The spotlight on the football field hasn’t always shown as brightly on Will Allen as it has on others who play the safety position for the Pittsburgh Steelers. With the absence of Troy Polamalu, Allen has stepped into the forefront to become a consistent force in the Steelers defensive backfield. Being a part of the ‘next man up’ movement in 2012, Allen has moved from being a special teams asset to an impact player. Allen doesn’t mind the lack of spotlight. In fact, his humble and thoughtful personality has allowed him to not only champion his dreams on the football field, but champion his intense devotion to those who matter the most to him; his family, his teammates and those he serves via his foundation.
Allen spent most of his childhood in the Midwest; a native of Dayton, Ohio. His dreams of being a star football player started early. According to his father, Keith Allen, those dreams began as soon as fourth grade. “That year (Will’s) teacher had them all write a story about what they wanted to do in life. Will wrote that he wanted to play for a high school championship, play for the college national title and play in the Super Bowl.” Will Allen had all those dreams come true.
In 1999, Allen led the Wayne High School Warriors in Huber Heights, Ohio, to the state title game before he was awarded an athletic scholarship to play football for the Ohio State Buckeyes. Aside from his athletic interests, Allen earned a degree in Communications and has used his experience to help others on and off of the gridiron. Allen believes that the measure of a man is his ability to “serve and be humble” and admits that the finest compliment he could receive would be for someone to say he is a man of integrity.
Under head coach Jim Tressel at Ohio State, Allen was a four-year letterman. Allen helped lead the Buckeyes to a BCS National Championship and the Big Ten Championship in 2002. While at Ohio State, Allen spent most of his time on the field at special teams and in nickel coverage with three-time All American Mike Doss. When asked about special teams play, Allen said prior to Super Bowl XLV, “I’ve never looked at special teams as bottom-of-the-barrel stuff. I played them at Wayne and all four years at Ohio State. It’s about doing what I can to help the team.”
Selected in the 4th round (111th pick overall) of the 2004 NFL Draft, Allen went to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Starting every game his rookie season, Allen specialized in special teams play. His first NFL interception came against the Carolina Panthers while his first NFL touchdown came in a Week 6 game against the Miami Dolphins. His abilities moved him up on the depth chart and Allen started eight games in 2005 at safety and free safety. As a replacement to Dexter Jackson, Allen made a big statement when he intercepted then Packers quarterback Brett Favre twice in the fourth quarter of an important game. Allen was named the Bucs’ special teams captain in 2008 and was an NFC special teams first alternate selection for the 2009 Pro Bowl. In March of 2010, Allen signed with the Steelers.
Allen gave credit to his becoming a part of the Steelers team that went to Super Bowl XLV to his family and others by saying, “If people back in Dayton hadn’t given back in my life, I don’t know where I’d be – but I wouldn’t be here at the Super Bowl.”
Calling Miami, Florida, home since 2004, Allen is proud of his Midwestern roots. He credits his father as having been the most reliable person in his life, an influential force, but he also gives credit to his faith. Above all, Allen has made a personal resolution to make purposeful changes in his life. “Some people say, ‘I’m going to make changes’, but they don’t purposefully have the intent to do it. To be deliberate and concentrated on doing that.” His father instilled in him the values of an education above the sports, but Allen has been able to balance both.
Allen was inspired to impact his community, and that led him from Ohio to Florida and then to Pennsylvania. In 2006, Allen and a friend, Labrawn Saffold, developed “Quest for Real Life Success”, an after-school program aimed at preparing high school students for real life experiences post graduation. “Quest” was the driving force behind the Will Allen Foundation. The program began with just two schools; King High and Brooks-DeBartolo Collegiate High in Tampa, Florida. In 2010, it expanded to include Westinghouse High in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Allen’s alma mater, Wayne High School (in Huber Heights, Ohio) and North Hills High School (in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) are the latest additions.
While Allen has developed into a champion player on the field, he has also developed into champion in his extracurricular activities. The focus on integrity and character hasn’t changed, it just expanded. In September of this year, the Wayne “Quest for Success” event took place with Allen and the North Hills Quest Program attending via Skype. It was an opportunity for two classes of high school kids to talk about college preparation in real time. With the aid of local business leaders, Allen has helped students to improve their classroom and leadership skills in an effort to prepare them for a successful life. He adds a focus to self-empowerment, financial management, planning and community service. In essence, Will Allen is paying it forward. Allen most recently held a mock election event to help students learn the importance of civic duty and leadership.
Taking yet another step forward, the Will Allen Foundation is awarding grants to elementary school teachers who promote literacy and a new program called ‘The Big Play’. Partnering with Astor and Black with donations from professional athletes in the NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL, young men in need are being awarded custom suits. The goal is to assist them in being prepared for everything from a college or job interview to honoring those who have returned form serving in the military. Additionally, young men who are released from detention for non-violent crimes are being provided an extra hand to become productive citizens through this program. Allen’s motivation: to help them achieve their best while looking their best.
Since 2010, Allen has stepped up in the Steelers defense in 38 regular season games. He is on track to have his best season yet with Pittsburgh, and has the ability to have a year as good as 2005. Through Week 9, Allen has 23 tackles and one forced fumble. He has also logged three plays in which his defensive skills resulted in negative yardage by the opponent. His play has been a valuable asset to a Steelers defense that stood tough against the New York Giants in a game where Eli Manning was held to just 125 yards passing.
“Pittsburgh [has been] a wonderful place for me…the franchise is special,” Allen has stated. “It starts with ownership – the way they treat you as a player – and it trickles down. They are in the business of winning, and when you come in here…you win, too.”
And at the end of the day, Allen says, “Football is what I do; it’s not who I am.” That line of thinking trickles down to those he surrounds himself with. Will Allen is looking for defining moments in his own life and championing them in others. That spotlight doesn’t matter so much if the light shines from inside.
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Christina Rivers is freelance journalist and photographer with a life-long love of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Credentialed with the organization, Christina provides a unique perspective gained through her knowledge and understanding of Steelers history, the Rooney family and relationships with past and present players. Her work can be found on Examiner.com.