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Lion coaches high on 5-foot-7 RB recruit

October 17, 2012
By Philip Cmor ( , The Altoona Mirror

Mark Allen accepts that he's only 5-foot-7, but it doesn't mean he takes kindly to people -- especially college football coaches -- looking down on him because of it.

He thinks he has something that can't be measured that makes up for it.

"A lot of colleges still look at the size, but I know, with the heart I have, size doesn't matter," Allen said. "I'm going to bring my heart wherever I go, and, when I bring my all, I'm going to help whatever college I go to."

That college is going to be Penn State, although it will be a couple of years before he arrives.

Unfazed by Allen's lack of height, the Nittany Lions extended the 185-pound junior running back from DeMatha Catholic in Hyattsville, Md. a scholarship on Monday afternoon. It was his first offer, and Allen accepted before getting off the phone with Bill O'Brien to become the first member of the 2014 recruiting class at the college he has considered his favorite since he was 11 years old.

"I love the vibe up there," said Allen, who camped at Penn State over the summer. "I like the facilities. I like the education. The vibe I got from the coaches, it fit me. They didn't worry about my size. They looked right past it. They just liked me for who I am."

Allen said his commitment is "100 percent." While Penn State was the first college to come through with a scholarship offer, he wasn't the only big-time college to be showing interest in Allen; Maryland and North Carolina were pursuing him the hardest, with West Virginia and Wake Forest also involved.

A starter for the Stags for the last six games of his sophomore year, Allen has 682 yards on 101 carries to go along with six receptions for 77 yards as DeMatha has gotten off to a 6-1 start, its only loss coming by three points to national powerhouse Good Counsel.

The Nittany Lions have been known to be looking at all-purpose backs even in the senior class, like Florida's Wesley Bullock and Maryland's Richie Anderson. Allen fits that to a T.

"We run a pro-style offense, so we're very versatile in what we do. Mark runs from the I formation, single-back, we put him in the slot to match up against linebackers and safeties. He's a kick returner. So Mark does a lot in what we do," Stags coach Elijah Brooks said. "In our first scrimmage, he took an off-tackle play 80 yards and set the tone for the game. That's what you're dealing with -- a player anytime he touches the ball, he can take it the distance. He is so explosive and one of the best athletes I've coached."

Allen opened eyes by turning in a 4.43-second 40-yard dash at Penn State's camp, and he uses that to the fullest advantage.

"The way I get in and out of a hole, it's no pitty-pat. In and out," Allen said.

BlueWhite Illustrated's Phil Grosz compared Allen's running style to that of former Michigan star Mike Hart. Others see similarities with Darren Sproles. O'Brien told Allen he reminded him of Danny Woodhead, which was a big honor since Allen is a New England Patriots fan.

Allen's favorite players, though, are Barry Sanders and Ray Rice. The 5-foot-8 Baltimore Ravens All-Pro has served as both an inspiration and an example to Allen.

"I like everything about his game. He's built really low to the ground, really short in stature. He can come out of the backfield, catching touchdowns," Allen said. "I just feel I can see myself in him."

Allen began playing football with his brother, Marquette, when he was 6. He didn't like the game at first, but eventually came to love it. That helped make it easier to take the time to develop an all-around game.

"Things don't come easy," Allen said. "I had to work."

Penn State has had a great deal of success with players out of DeMatha over the years, like Rogers Alexander, Steve Smith and Cameron Wake. The Lions brought in another Stag player earlier this year, Brent Wilkerson, and that helped solidify Allen's interest in the Lions.

"I consider Brent like a big brother," Allen said. "He'd take me to school every day, pick me up and take me to practices."

Allen said he will recruit other players for Penn State, starting with teammate Cam Phillips, a receiver/defensive back. A fan of the Lions because of their traditionally strong running game, he said the negative publicity from the Jerry Sandusky scandal didn't deter him, and it shouldn't with others.

"That didn't bother me at all, because I don't feel one person can bring a mighty university down," Allen said. "We are Penn State."

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