Not long after Boston College’s loss to Iowa in the Pinstripe Bowl, junior defensive end Zach Allen had to start weighing the decision between making an early leap to the NFL or staying in school for his final season.
He flashed back though the three years he’d spent as an Eagle to get a sense of how far the program had come. He thought about how brutal it was to go through a 3-9 season as freshman, but how much experience they gained playing so early in their careers.
The program was at one of its bleakest points, but the next season, the Eagles pieced together seven wins and returned to a bowl game. This past season was another step as BC relied on a core of established talent and an emerging group of young players to stun some of the Atlantic Coast Conference’s powerhouses and earn another bowl berth.
Allen could see the vision coach Steve Addazio had laid out for him when he was recruited playing out in front of him.
“It’s just a testament to how Coach Addazio built the program and to just how awesome of a place BC is to be at right now and what we have to look forward to next year,” Allen said. “The entire building, there’s just an energy that excites everyone.”
When Allen took it all in, it made the most sense to put his professional plans on hold for one more season and return to see the plan come to fruition.
“It was a very tough decision to make, but the main reason really was I’m just excited for the team that we’ve got coming back,” Allen said. “We’ve been through so much my first three years and, you know, we win five of our last six regular-season games, we’re really on a roll.
“There’s a lot of special things that are going on and I want to be a part of that.”
Allen’s decision means the Eagles will have one of the most relentless defensive linemen in the ACC among their 17 returning starters next season.
With 93 tackles and five sacks this past season, Allen put himself on the radar of NFL front offices, but he didn’t let draft projections sway his decision-making.
“You hear a lot of things,” Allen said. “You see yourself projected in certain places. There’s such a wide range where I was projected.
“But just personally, talking it over with my coaches and my family, there’s still skills that I wanted to develop, because my goal is to be a first-round draft pick, and I feel BC — with coaches like coach Addazio, coach [Jim] Reid, and especially coach [Paul] Pasqualoni, there’s no better place to work on those skills.”
Allen flew under the radar at the start of the season, with much of the spotlight aimed at his bookend on the line, Harold Landry, who was in the same scenario as Allen a year ago, returning to BC his senior season with the hopes of solidifying himself as a first-round pick.
Allen paid close attention both to the way Landry carried himself on the field and the way he handled his decision to stay in school.
“He’s been fantastic since I’ve been here,” Allen said. “He’s handled himself like a professional. Having him go through it definitely helped me. He was great supporting me whenever I wanted to ask a question or ask for advice. I was definitely thankful to have Harold go through it first.”
Allen said they spoke recently and Landry offered some straightforward advice.
“He was just saying, ‘Do what’s right for you and it’s between you, your family, and the coaches,’ ” Allen said. “That’s all that matters. Don’t listen to the outside noise.
“That was a big thing for me, and sitting down with my coaches and with my family, we thought this would be the best decision for me.”
When Landry suffered an ankle injury midway through the year that ostensibly shut him down for the season, opponents shifted their attention Allen’s way. It didn’t stop him from leading all defensive linemen nationally with 93 tackles and leading BC with five sacks and 14½ tackles for losses.
But the extra on-field attention didn’t carry over to the balloting for the ACC awards. While Allen was one of nine Eagles named all-conference, he was given an honorable mention nod, which Addazio called baffling.
Allen said he took it as a snub initially, but now that he’s returning, it will be a mental note for next season.
“I’m not going to lie, in the beginning I was kind of bummed,” he said. “But I have such great teammates and great coaches, the whole support staff.
“It was funny — they were more mad about it than I was. They were right there to pick me up. But we still had business to do. We were focused on the Pinstripe Bowl and we wanted to finish out strong.
“Obviously I was upset, but it’s just more fuel to the fire for this year and I’m excited for this team and for myself to accomplish a lot my senior year.”Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @julianbenbow.