The center is the heart of an offensive line. Smack dab in the middle of the unit and responsible for calling out the defense, the center plays a critical role in the offense. Jack Allen has played the part well this season.
In his second year as a starter on the Michigan State offensive line, Allen has assumed a large leadership role. Steamrolling every defender in his way, the sophomore has helped guide the Spartans to a Big Ten Championship and Rose Bowl appearance.
Allen recently spoke with Hondo S. Carpenter, Sr. about the coaching staff, the Rose Bowl and much more.
Redshirt freshmen donâ€™t get an opportunity to play in many programs, due to their lack of experience. But head coach Mark Dantonio and the offensive coaching staff quickly saw Allenâ€™s talents, and made the redshirt freshman the teamâ€™s starting left guard at the beginning of the 2012 season.
Just five games later, the coaching staff threw Allen into the fire. Following a season-ending injury to Travis Jackson, Allen was thrust into the starting center spot. The Hinsdale, Ill. native played the position in high school, but switching positions midseason is always challenging.
Allen handled the situation admirably. The youngster garnered a long list of postseason awards, including Big Ten All-American Freshman Team honors as awarded by ESPN.com and BTN.com.
After missing the first two games of the 2013 season, Allen picked up where he left off. Starting the next 11 games, the sophomore plowed over each opponent he faced. With some time to reflect, Allen finds that heâ€™s enjoying himself a lot more as compared to last season.
â€œItâ€™s a lot more fun when youâ€™re winning,â€ he said.
Becoming a team leader has also fueled his fire. Allen has thrived in his second year starting, picking up second-team All-Big Ten honors by the media and an honorable mention selection on the coachesâ€™ All-Big Ten squad.
â€œI like it, but the seniors are really pulling this whole thing along,â€ Allen said. â€œThe younger guys are kind of just following.â€
The sophomore has modeled his leadership on the coaching staffâ€™s example. Heâ€™s particularly fascinated by Dantonio and Jim Bollman.
Allen admires Dantonio for his dedication to Michigan State. The ninth highest-paid head coach in the Big Ten, Dantonio could go to a lot of other places, but he doesnâ€™t hold MSU hostage.
â€œIt means a lot and I think thatâ€™s a reason I came here and a lot of these guys came here, because I feel like our coaches arenâ€™t in it for the big bucks, theyâ€™re there for you, theyâ€™re there to make you better,â€ Allen said. â€œItâ€™s a family atmosphere, and that just shows that I made the right decision and all these other guys made the right decision, because thatâ€™s someone you want as your coach.â€
Allen also looks up to Bollman, Co-Offensive Coordinator and Tight Ends coach for the Spartans. MSUâ€™s starting center sees a lot of himself in Bollman, despite the age difference. Allen told Bollman as much one day. As Allen recounted, the veteran coach responded with something to the effect of, â€œYouâ€™d be surprised if you saw me in pads.â€
The two have grown close in Bollmanâ€™s first year at Michigan State. Allen greatly respects Bollman, saying of the 37-year coaching veteran, â€œhe reminds me of a Sean Connery of the Midwest.â€
Allen gets along well with Bollman in part because the two share a blue collar, hard-working nature. Both are easy to understand, traditional football men.
â€œHeâ€™s just a guy you can talk to and heâ€™s old school, thatâ€™s what I like about him,â€ Allen said of Bollman. â€œDo this, throw your face into theirs.â€
When the Spartans attempt to do just that Jan. 1, Allen will be prepared. Hailing from Big Ten country in Illinois, Allen is familiar with the conference and its traditions. His grandfather played football for Wisconsin when the Badgers faced off against the Washington Huskies in the 1960 Rose Bowl.
Playing in the game means so much to Allen that he still hasnâ€™t been able to wrap his head around it.
â€œIt hasnâ€™t hit me at all really,â€ Allen said. â€œI was thinking that we won the Big Ten Championship and we always talk about the plaques on the side of [Spartan] Stadium. They always say, â€˜If you win, your name will be on the side of this forever.â€™ This morning, walking out of meetings, I was like, â€˜My name is going to be on the side of the stadium along with everyone else.â€™ That hasnâ€™t really sunk in, but itâ€™s pretty awesome.â€
The Stanford Cardinal sits in Michigan Stateâ€™s way. The Cardinal will try to prevent the Spartans from winning their first Rose Bowl since 1988 by bringing a bruising offensive attack and a wily defensive approach. But Allen will be ready for the challenge.
â€œTheyâ€™ve got a lot of good players and they can all play wherever they are on the field,â€ Allen said. â€œFor us, itâ€™s not really going to matter their number, itâ€™s going to matter whoâ€™s there and whoâ€™s in front of you.â€
Allen canâ€™t wait for the Spartans to unleash their offensive attack on the Cardinal defense. The sophomore center believes the MSU offense runs the best when the offense takes some risks.
â€œI think we play a lot better when it starts flowing,â€ Allen said. â€œEverything starts going and we get a long drive, weâ€™re getting it done, [when] Connor is back there and in control and doing what he does.â€
As the Spartans arrive in Pasadena, the hour grows near. The Granddaddy of Them All draws closer by the minute. But the Spartan Nation every reason to be confident. The heart of the offensive line, Jack Allen, is ready to pound the Cardinal into submission and lead the way for a Michigan State Rose Bowl victory.