Bob Wojnowski and John Niyo break down Michigan and Michigan State for the 2017 college football season. Detroit News
East Lansing — Brian Allen believes he had the best role model possible.
He hopes he can be one someday, too.
The Michigan State senior offensive lineman was named one of the Spartans’ two captains for 2017, and he is in the unique position to follow in the footsteps of his brother, Jack, who was a captain on the 2015 team that won the Big Ten and reached the College Football Playoff.
The Allens join two other sets of brothers — Josh and Kaleb Thornhill and Max and Riley Bullough — that have served as Michigan State captains.
“Having him as a captain, he’s my brother and I’m a little biased but in my opinion I think he’s been one of the best captains to come through here,” Brian said of Jack. “I think he did a great job of showing other guys what it’s like to be a leader and giving guys a blueprint for that — not even the captains, but the Eagles, the leaders on the team.
“He set a good example of how to do it the right way.”
Whether the youngest of the Allen brothers makes it 3-for-3 remains to be seen. Matt Allen is a redshirt freshman for the Spartans and played so well in preseason camp, it might allow Brian to move over to guard — a spot he has started at 21 times in his career.
But Brian doesn’t feel like there’s any added pressure on Matt to be the same type of leader he and Jack have been. He never felt that from Jack, instead, has always looked to emulate his brother in his approach to the game. It’s something he believes Matt will follow, as well.
“I don’t think that Jack decided to be good at football or work hard to be a captain,” Brian said. “He just wanted Michigan State to win and be successful on the field. I think his hard work and his attitude and the way he carried himself gave him this opportunity (to be a captain) and I think he set a good example for me. Hopefully, I’m doing that for Matt and it’s up to Matt if he wants to work hard. That’s a decision he’ll have to make. If he has the career I think he will, I think he’ll be in this spot in a couple years.”
Few doubted Brian Allen would be in this spot early in his career. While Jack redshirted his first season before going on to start 47 games as a Spartan, Brian was on the field the first game of his freshman year.
It was 2014 and Michigan State was on its way to the Cotton Bowl where it rallied to beat Baylor. Along the way, Brian Allen played in 12 games. He didn’t start, but he saw action at both guard spots and center while earning Freshman All-American honors from the Football Writers Association of America.
By 2015, he was starting at left guard next to Jack, an All-America center that season. And when Jack missed two games because of injury, Brian moved over and took over at center. By 2016, Brian Allen was one of the Spartans’ standouts up front and earned second-team All-Big Ten honors from the media.
“Brian is an outstanding football player,” coach Mark Dantonio plainly stated.
He has the benefit of learning from Jack, to be sure, but he’s been through plenty on his own. He and fellow captain Chris Frey have been in the two-deep since they were freshmen and both have been integral parts of championship teams and part of last season’s collapse.
“They’ve seen all different levels of it; they’ve seen exhilaration at a high level as well as disappointment at a high level,” Dantonio said. “I think that brings a sense of power to their message.”
It’s a message Allen intends to convey, not just to his brother but the entire line, one full of talent but also light on the experience of Allen, who has started 25 times in his career — 16 at left guard, five at right guard and four at center.
It’s something he started well before preseason camp, even before spring practice. The Spartans needed a leader, and who better to step in than an Allen?
“I kind of took that as a responsibility,” Allen said.
“Coming in the way that I got to come in to Michigan State, guys who won the Rose Bowl — it shouldn’t be the way that it was for other guys coming in this year.”