NEW CANAAN — Zach Allen sat in the office of his high school coach last month, speaking in measured tones. The conversation could just as easily have taken place four years ago, with Allen talking about getting ready for his senior year at New Canaan.
Instead, before getting ready to return from his holiday break, the subject was again about coming off a great junior season, this time at Boston College.
Allen the person hasn’t changed. Allen the football player, following his career trajectory, keeps getting better.
“I love Zach for a lot of reasons,” said Boston College coach Steve Addazio. “Number one, Zach is an unbelievably great kid. He’s a great representative of Connecticut high school football, New Canaan and Boston College. I love being around him every day. He’s a great role model and has a great work ethic. I love him.”
Allen could have forsaken his final year with the Eagles and made himself available for the NFL Draft, where the prospects for where he might be drafted varied. It would have been perfectly reasonable to start realizing his dream a year early.
That Allen decided to stay is a reflection of him as a person, and the way he was raised by his parents, Mike and Irene. Allen’s next self-serving thought will be his first.
“My parents instilled a set of morals and values,” Allen said. “I’ve been well grounded from the beginning, and staying in touch with old friends and my old coaches. The reason I came to BC was because there were a lot of like-minded people and that’s what I like. People who enjoy the hard work. That’s why I love BC and want to stay another year.”
One of Allen’s most admirable accomplishments is how he has gotten better each season, starting as a freshman at New Canaan. There have been no off years, or riding on his laurels. Allen finished with team-highs of six sacks and 15.5 tackles for losses this past season.
The Eagles got off to a 2-4 start before making a strong run to finish 7-6 following a Pinstripe Bowl loss to Iowa.
Allen said his personal game plan was not charted until the final snap.
“During the season my whole focus was on winning games,” Allen said. “Especially in the back half going 5-2 in our last seven was a big deal. Right after the bowl game it was always there, it always came up. I just talked it over with my coaches and my family and we decided it would be best for me to come back.”
Prior to combines, most grades had Allen going somewhere in the second or third round if he opted to declare for the draft. Adazzio was a proponent of Allen returning for his senior year to raise his stock.
“Like all young guys, Zach did not redshirt,” Adazzio said. “That means that he’s still young, and mentally and physically he’s going to continue to develop. I think that’s critically important. I think he’s going to get a little bigger, a little stronger. He’s going to continue to develop his game at a very high level.”
Allen has always been a favorite with his teammates for reasons deeper than contributions. More important in the short term is the chance to spend one year on campus, graduate and help the Eagles, with a number of starters back, become a player on the national scene.
“I love Zach for a lot of reasons. Number one, Zach is an unbelievably great kid. He’s a great representative of Connecticut high school football, New Canaan and Boston College. I love being around him every day. He’s a great role model and has a great work ethic. I love him.”
— Boston College coach Steve Addazio
“I thought about it but at the end of the day I wanted to come back,” Allen said. “BC is a special place. I’m really excited to do something special with those guys and get my degree. We have so many guys returning and so many guys that know how to handle themselves. It’s not just going to be a couple of seniors here and there, it will be a whole collective effort. I think everyone in the building has the right mindset. That’s what makes it so exciting. You are working with guys who have the same goals and same desire to win. That’s kind of where we’re at right now and we’re excited to work on it.”
Allen’s attitude has always won over his coaches, first with Lou Marinelli in New Canaan and now Addazio.
“In today’s world for a lot of guys it’s what’s in it for me,” Addazio said. “With Zach it’s about what’s in it for his team, and I really appreciate that.”
Allen acknowledged — as he does every offseason — that there is room for improvement.
“You always have to continue to work on everything,” he said. “Just being a more consistent player because I can play anywhere from a zero technique to a nine. Improving at each of the techniques and being more consistent and being a more dominant player and doing whatever to help the team win.”
Playing in the NFL has been a lifelong dream for Allen, one that has glided closer to reality with every year. Now he is on the precipice, but willing to wait to stay true to the qualities that have carried him on and off the field.
“It’s kind of surreal,” Allen said. “You put on the jerseys as a kid and kind of imagine, but it’s just another thing that keeps driving me because we’re so close and I don’t want to mess it up. I’m really excited for my senior year and to make it a special one both with team success and individual success.”