There is power in the work that William Allen did to rehabilitate himself over the span of a nearly 28-year prison sentence, a power he knew he could harness if he ever regained his freedom.
Two months after having his life sentence commuted by Governor Charlie Baker and being released from prison, Allen was a guest Thursday at Gillette Stadium as the Patriots continued organized team activities.
Allen was able to thank Patriots players who along with lawyers, family, and community organizations led efforts to fight for his release. Devin McCourty took the lead among Patriots players, and listening to Allen, he heard a larger message about the ever-present opportunity for self-improvement and change.
“He talked about just being as strong as the weakest link on a chain,” McCourty said. “For every guy, every person, you fully understand that.
“I think his perspective of obviously being incarcerated for 28 years and doing everything that he possibly could to rehabilitate himself and understanding the opportunity we have as players, especially this time of the year, to every day work on yourself and improve, to come back for training camp to ultimately try to put the best product, the best team that we can on the field will come down to all of us individually putting in that work now.”
Allen was convicted in 1997 of first-degree murder for his role in a 1994 robbery that led to the killing of a Brockton man. He refused a plea deal, and he was sentenced to life in prison even though it was his accomplice who actually committed the act.
At just 21 years old, his life could have amounted to the consequences of that decision. Instead, he saw an opportunity for change.
Allen committed himself to self-improvement. He put in work at Bridgewater State Hospital. He volunteered for a program that helped people with mental disabilities.
Allen’s story is one of transgression, redemption, accountability, and hope.
“I don’t even know if Will knew he was kind of hitting at this time of year,” McCourty said. “But I think him saying that, you could really tell it resonated with the guys hearing that message and knowing what’s in front of us right now.”
McCourty said it was valuable for the Patriots who stood behind Allen to see their work come full circle. Coaches, staff, and players signed a letter last September to Baker recommending commutation. A clemency petition was granted in January.
“Because he’s free, it’s actually going to probably open the door for so many other people who are incarcerated to, you know, use the commutations,” said McCourty.
McCourty said Allen’s story also will lead players to remain active in community issues and issues of social justice.
“I just thought it was so awesome to see you get involved with something and to see that your impact, your name, your time made a huge difference in somebody’s freedom,” McCourty said.
Unlike his rookie season, Mac Jones doesn’t have a former MVP and three-time Pro Bowler to compete with this year. He’ll go into his second season knowing the job is his under center, and he’s comfortable taking the reins.
“Has he taken control of the offense? I mean, that’s just a capital ‘Yes,’ ” said receiver Jakobi Meyers. “Exclamation mark, exclamation mark.
“He’s the real deal. What he sees, we’re all kind of trying to just catch up to what’s in his mind, his vision. I know him, the coaches have been doing a great job of just relaying information to us.
“He’s been really adamant about what he says. He has a clear vision in his mind.”
Coach Bill Belichick has been more hands-on with the offense in practice, even lining up at center for Jones. The Patriots have overhauled the language in their playbook after former offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels’s departure for Las Vegas.
To get up to speed, Jones has taken on an even larger role in making sure everyone is on the same page.
“That’s the whole point of the quarterback, right, is to lead the guys around you, get them the ball, get the ball out quick, get the ball on time, and let the offensive line do their thing,” said Jones. “It’s a group effort. It’s not just one person out there. There’s 11 people.
“I have the ball every play and I have to make the decisions to help the team win.”
Reaching an agreement in March on a one-year, $9 million deal to stay in New England wasn’t nearly as difficult for McCourty as other forays with free agency.
“Me and [Matthew Slater] talk about it every year,” said McCourty. “As you get older, you don’t know how much teams want you to come play football for them. So for me, it was obviously trying to stay here and getting a deal done.”
McCourty, who is going into his 13th season, said his relationship with the organization made the process easy.
“It’s not like when I was younger when free agency comes and you’re nervous, you don’t know,” he said. “I’m completely calm and sound because I’m content with my career, what it’s been and what I’ve been able to do here in New England and I’ve loved every minute of it.”
On the other end of the spectrum, Meyers was tagged with a second-year tender after going from an undrafted free agent in 2019 to the Patriots’ top receiver a year ago. The one-year, $4 million deal still gives the Patriots the option to sign Meyers to an extension.
“I’m one of those guys, I’m not too good at multitasking, if I have to be honest,” Meyers said. “Once I got here, I talked to my agent, I was just like, ‘Whatever you’ve got to do, that’s why you get paid the big bucks. And I’m going to try to do what I do best.’
“So I kind of put it all on his plate, just trusting him, trusting the coaches, trusting the front office.”
Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.