Illinois' Allen wants to blaze new NFL trail

Chicago’s King High School has always been touted for its basketball history.

From Marcus Liberty to Rashard Griffith to Leon Smith to Thomas Hamilton to Jamie Brandon to Imari Sawyer, the list of basketball stars to come through the Chicago South Side school has been plentiful.

King’s football program is a different story. It isn’t nearly as known, but Jeff Allen plans to change that.

Allen, who graduated from King in 2008 and started four years on the offensive line at Illinois, is expected to be selected somewhere in the opening rounds of the NFL draft next week.

“We have had some decent players from our high school program go onto college,” Allen said of King. “We just haven’t had any great players. That would be an honor for me. We’ve had some great players throughout time, but they obviously played basketball. To be included in the same sentence with them would be an honor.”

Always one of the bigger kids growing up, Allen gravitated toward football at an early age. His dreams of the NFL started not too long after he began playing when he was 9 years old.

Allen caught the eye of former Illinois coach Ron Zook during his junior season at King, and Allen committed to the Illini in June of 2007. Allen got an early start on his career when he enrolled at Illinois in January of 2008., and it didn’t take long for him to make an impact. He started nine games at offensive tackle as a true freshman.

It was then he realized his NFL dream wasn’t so far off.

“My coaches told me I had the ability after my freshman year,” Allen said. “It was a motivating force.”

Allen’s stock continued to rise. He started 47 consecutive games for Illinois. He was named to the media’s All-Big Ten Second-Team in 2010 and 2011. He was also on the Outland Trophy and Rotary Lombardi Award watch lists this season.

ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. has the 6-foot-3, 307-pound Allen being taken in the second round as the 55th overall pick by the Atlanta Falcons. Allen worked out and visited a number of NFL teams, including his hometown Chicago Bears.

“That was neat,” Allen said of the Bears. “I mostly grew up a Chicago fan. To be able to see the facility and tradition and history growing up, seeing that was great. But I’m in that phase, it’s a business for me now. Whoever picks me becomes my favorite team.”

Allen plans to get together with his family at their Chicago home for the draft next week. He doesn’t plan to watch the draft from the start.

“I’ll flip to ESPN when I get picked,” Allen said. “I’m just hanging out with my family and treating it like a normal day. I wouldn’t say I’m nervous, just anticipation.”