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Allen a ferocious linebacker for Flowery Branch

POSTED: November 13, 2012 10:01 p.m.

FLOWERY BRANCH — It took less than one practice for Flowery Branch coach Chris Griffin to figure out he had a football player on his hands in Jacob Allen.

It was the late in the 2008-09 school year and Allen was a wiry eighth-grader at the time, coming up from middle school for spring practice.

“It was five minutes into the first practice, and we all were like ‘who is this kid?,’” said Griffin, then the Falcons defensive coordinator. “I mean, he was just killing people, almost to the point where we had to say, ‘OK, we’ve seen enough.’”

But that first glance was only a sneak peak of what was to come. Thankfully for the Falcons, they’ve seen plenty more.

Since ascending to the starting lineup at the end of his freshman year, Allen has been a stalwart in the middle of the Flowery Branch defense, posting more than 100 tackles and ranking with the area’s leaders in the category each of the last three seasons. And it will be Allen, now a senior captain, leading the Region 8-AAAAA champion Falcons (8-2) into the first round of the playoffs when they host North Paulding (7-3) on Friday night.

For Allen, it will be the first step in the last leg of a journey that launched in earnest three years and one week ago, when he made his first varsity start in the final week of the 2009 regular season.

The opponent: Gainesville. At stake: The region championship.

He was part of wholesale defensive changes made by the Falcons’ coaching staff prior to the game. Lining up at nose guard, Allen was only 170 pounds at the time. But he was ferocious, and his task was simple: Shoot the gap, wreak some havoc.

“We had some pretty good linebackers that year, so we said ‘look, we’re going to get you on the field, somehow, some way,’” Griffin said. “And nose guard was the easiest thing to do, and he loved it. I mean he was causing fits for a lot of teams.”

The changes paid off. Though the Falcons lost the region championship to Gainesville and fell again to the Red Elephants in the state semifinals in one of the most memorable games in recent Hall County history, the improvement on defense was evident. After allowing more than 35 points four times in the regular season, none of Flowery Branch’s playoff foes — including Gainesville, which scored 49 in the regular season finale, and Isaiah Crowell-led Carver-Columbus — scored as many in the playoffs.

“From that point on,” Griffin said, “he hasn’t come off the field for us.”

And as for Gainesville, Allen and the Falcons finally got their revenge last week.

The stage was similar. The opponent and the stakes were the same. But as the Falcons walked off the field with a 35-34 win and the first outright region title in the school’s brief but storied history, the emotion was the precise opposite of 2009’s heartbreak.

“I can’t tell you how bad I’ve been wanting to beat Gainesville,” Allen said. “Since I was playing football in middle school, I’ve never beaten them. It ached at me, knowing they were across the county.

“When we beat them it was a really hard-to-describe feeling,” he added. “It was like a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders, a bunch of emotions running through.”

From here forward, each game could be Allen’s last in Flowery Branch uniform, but a career at the next level awaits. He’s planning an official visit to the University of Illinois in December and is also considering Indiana and Southern Miss, among others. In an era when so much scouting is done away from the gridiron — through combines and camps and 7-on-7 tournaments — Allen is a bit of a throwback.

“You’re not going to find any star rankings on me on the Internet,” he said. “You’re not going to see any rankings for me on ESPN.

“I’m not ranked, because I haven’t gone to any of those combines, because I don’t do good in those individual tests and stuff. People have told me I do well, but I’m just not comfortable. I’d rather people just watch me on the field, and that seems to have worked out.”

It’s worked out, because as Griffin said, many college recruiters have inquired about Allen after requesting game film on another of Flowery Branch’s college prospects.

“(College recruiters) see the knack for making plays,” Griffin said. “(Allen is) a guy who’s not going to outrun everybody in the 40 (yard dash) or he’s probably not going to win any kind of bodybuilding contest or anything, but he understands how the game is played.

“And what they see is a guy who’s extremely physical. Extremely,” Griffin added with emphasis. “They love the way he hits and makes tackles.”

That physicality is one of the aspects Allen loves most about football and his home at middle linebacker. He plays with what seems to be reckless abandon — exploding into ball carriers with bone-jarring hits — yet he’s rarely caught out of position.

For Allen, like many of the best linebackers, the game moves a tick slower. What might look like a chaotic scrum of crashing bodies to some, for them is a symphony of pulling guards and on-coming fullbacks, gaps waiting to be filled and running backs begging to be smacked.

“I know it can’t really be called genetics, but I guess I just have the instincts to know where the ball is,” Allen said. “People ask me all the time: How do I get to the ball so quickly, how do I know? I really don’t know how I know. I just feel like it should be there. It’s more an instinct thing, I would say.”

And playing inside linebacker, perhaps the most physically taxing position on the field, allows Allen to bring those instincts — and more — to bear.

“I feel like I can be the most physical person on the field,” he said. “I feel like I can bring anger into the game, I can bring emotion to the game that maybe somebody else might not feel or might not have. And I can spread it across the defense and maybe spread it across the offense, too. I like that intense feeling, knowing that you’re the flame that’s spread throughout the team.”

It’s part of what Allen sees as his role as a captain, a position he’s held since his sophomore year and one he takes seriously.

“He’s probably one of the most vocal leaders we have,” fellow senior Darius Curry said. “He’s always coming to practice with a great attitude and he’s ready to get out there and hit somebody. He’s got that linebacker mentality. He always wants to hit, he’s crazy, he’s wild, he’s making noise. He’s a great teammate, he’s a great friend, and he’s a great person to have around.”


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