By Tris Wykes

Copyright Octopus Athletics 2021

HANOVER – Jake Allen glides across the Dartmouth College campus, his daily commute between an off-campus apartment, classes and football practice made easier and more amusing while riding an Unagi electric scooter. The senior’s vehicle will be parked outside Floren Varsity House today when the Big Green takes on Yale for homecoming.

“You don’t get anything without asking, so when the (NCAA Name, Likeness and Image legislation) recently went through, I messaged five scooter companies and one sent me an $800 gift card,” said Allen, who used it towards purchase of his $1,000 wheels. “They didn’t ask me to do anything in return; they just liked my initiative.”

A 23-year old who grew up in south Florida, Allen can only wish his path through football had been as smooth as his scooter rides. He accepted a University of Florida scholarship offer as a high school sophomore after being recruited by Notre Dame, Miami, North Carolina and Stanford.  

It was evident, even to casual observers, that football was the primary motivation for the Allen family, which lived in tony Boca Raton. Jake’s father, Tim, played briefly at Boston University and he and his wife, Leslie, held Jake back a year in eighth grade.

Earlier, they had moved him from what they perceived as a weaker, suburban youth football program to one in a rougher neighborhood. Jake was the team’s only white player.

Allen, now 6-feet-3 and 205 pounds, played for three high schools and led Fort Lauderdale’s St. Thomas Aquinas to a state title. By June of 2016, the website Bleacher Report created a video dubbing him the University of Florida’s “Savior in the Swamp”.

Another site ranked him as the country’s 10th-best pro style quarterback and he was invited to the prestigious Elite 11 quarterback camp finals in Los Angeles.

“This is the dream we’ve been working on for years,” the site SEC Country quoted Tim Allen in 2017, just ahead of Jake’s arrival as a Gator. 

Jake Allen didn’t play his freshman fall and decided after the off-season hiring of Dan Mullen that he didn’t fit into the new coach’s plans. It was assumed he’d transfer to another Power Five program, but he instead landed at Dartmouth, partially through the efforts of associate head coach Sammy McCorkle, a Florida graduate who once played safety for the Gators.

The Big Green was about to lose two-year quarterback starter Jack Henegan to graduation and the convenient storyline was that the incoming SEC transfer would step in under center. Instead, Allen never took a meaningful varsity snap and his football career ended a few days into this season because of a years-long battle with back pain.

Allen said he suffered an injury called Parr’s Defect, or spondylolysis, as a high school junior. This is a stress fracture of bones in the lower spine, typically attributed to overuse and it’s s a common cause of low back pain in children and adolescents. Jake Allen said doctors told his father they weren’t sure the teenager would ever be able to throw a football again, something Tim didn’t tell his son until recently.

“There were concerns about if my scholarship would still be valid,” Jake Allen said. “Surgery and recovery was a 12-month process and I didn’t want to do that.”

Allen missed a combined three months of practice at the University of Florida, his condition aggravated by the twisting motion of sucking a pigskin. It also hampered him at Dartmouth, where it became puzzling why the transfer was struggling. He was typically third or fourth on the depth chart and sometimes ran the Big Green’s scout team, a collection of reserves who mimic the upcoming opponent’s plays.

Allen didn’t throw at all for six months earlier this year in an attempt to let his injured bones calcify. He wanted a final shot at playing, not just practicing. Instead, after the second practice, he had to walk away from teammates who wanted him to stay and put in extra work. Soon after, Allen’s back locked up completely when he bent forward to retrieve an item from his refrigerator’s bottom shelf and he knew his quest was over.

Allen has since become a student quarterbacks coach. He participates in everything any other player does, except group weight-lifting, and assists offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Kevin Daft during meetings and practices. Daft is all business and often blunt, so Allen acts as a gentle buffer and tutor, almost like a graduate teaching assistant might for an undergraduate class.

Dartmouth has six quarterbacks and only one, fifth-year player and starter Derek Kyler, has as much experience understanding Daft’s attack. Allen knows the offense thoroughly and is something of a peer counselor for the other signal-callers. Jimmy Fitzgerald, a transfer from the University of Illinois whose career also ended at Dartmouth because of injury, served a similar role several years ago.

Dartmouth College quarterback Jake Allen with coach Kevin Daft. Copyright Octopus Athletics. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to ctwykes@aol.com.

“What Jake’s doing is inspirational,” Kyler said. “Things happened that were out of his control but he’s still helping the team even if his body won’t allow him to do it on the field.”

Nick Howard, Kyler’s junior backup but also a player Dartmouth purposely inserts into the game for his rushing skills, said Allen is a nonstop, supportive presence for the active quarterbacks. He’s someone who can point out mistakes or technique corrections without his comments carrying the sometimes harsh weight of a coach’s comments.

 

“Jake’s awesome for the younger guys and he helps us stay organized,” Howard said. “He keeps us all in line, makes sure we’re in the right place at the right time for drills and on away trips. He knows all the footwork and our reads and he’s a guiding hand for when coach Daft is taking care of everything else.”

Allen already adjusted when he left the University of Florida for Dartmouth. It was football first with the Gators, but the onetime communications major came to desire a more complete college experience. Now, he must adapt further with the end of his playing career.

“It’s a really hard change after having football be kind of your identify your whole life,” he said. “You realize that’s such a small aspect of who you are and that there are so many other things you can be successful at.

“Wanting to be a good, overall person is a shift from simply wanting to be the best quarterback you can be. I never really realized that until coming to Dartmouth and being around all it has to offer.”

Allen, now a government major, has found the stock market to be his new competitive outlet. He interned for Wall Street titan Goldman Sachs earlier this year and will start a job there next summer.

 

Allen enjoys equity research and the need to completely understand a company and not just its balance sheet. He daydreams about retiring at 40 and transitioning again, this time to being a high school math teacher and football coach.

“The stock market is the ultimate scoreboard,” Allen said, noting that the industry’s requirement for quick decision-making and wide-ranging knowledge means Ivy League athletics are prized hires. 

“The people who survive are on the winning side. You have to prepare, just like football, and it’s as much of a team as you can get being outside of athletics.”

Allen will be on the home sideline today. Instead of a four-striped helmet, he will likely wear a bright red baseball cap that allows Kyler or Howard to quickly spot him while he signals in plays and adjustments. The sizable crowd will not hear his name spoken over the public-address system. Nonethelsss, Allen will be content.

“Football didn’t work out for me but I have absolutely zero regrets because it’s taught me more than anything else could have about myself,” he said. “Adversity and success, how you lead and take criticism. It’s all stuff you have to deal with for the rest of your life.”

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Gil Talbot photo