Michigan State senior Matt Allen says he hasn't played his last game for Spartans
Everything seemed to be lining up quite well for Matt Allen.
The fifth-year senior offensive lineman was getting set for his final season at Michigan State, and even amid a late coaching change and the loss of spring practice, Allen felt like things were shaping up for a perfect finale to his Spartans career.
Of course, COVID-19 had other plans.
With the pandemic ongoing, the Big Ten made the decision on Aug. 11 to postpone the season, only five days into Michigan State’s preseason camp.
“It was definitely kind of a sad day,” Allen said. “When the news actually hit, it was real, and it was like ‘Wow.’ I was a little bit stunned.”
Just like that, Allen was forced to consider what was next. The brother of two former standout Michigan State offensive linemen — Jack Allen was a first-team All-American in 2015 while Brian Allen was a three-time All-Big Ten honoree who was drafted by the Los Angeles Rams in 2018 — Allen knew almost immediately that he wasn’t passing up on his final chance to play for the Spartans.
“Honestly, whatever happens, happens,” Allen said. “I'm planning on playing, whether that's in the spring, or in the coming fall, depending on what it is, I'll be here ready to play if the coaches let me. So I'll be ready to go, and I know everyone else on the team will, too.”
This fall or after the first of the year continues to be up for debate as the Big Ten’s presidents and chancellors, as well as athletic directors, determine the conference’s path.
For Allen, though, things were already trending in the right direction. Having started 16 of his 30 career games at center, a fully healthy Allen already was seeing the team take significant steps forward under coach Mel Tucker and a completely new offensive staff, even if he continued to be critical of himself.
“I would say I'm kind of a negative person, personally, so I never really am where I want to be,” Allen said. “But I improved a ton, just like from Day 1 to Day 5, and that came in the short fall camp. My biggest thing was just like, making sure guys look at this almost as if it was like a miniature spring ball.”
Those handful of practices are all Allen and his fellow offensive linemen have had with new position coach Chris Kapilovic, as well as offensive coordinator Jay Johnson.
Still, it was a welcome opportunity for Allen. He started the first eight games last season at center before an injury knocked him out of the final four regular-season games. Allen was back in the starting lineup for the Pinstripe Bowl, but after having spring practice cancelled, getting back on the field was far more beneficial than sitting in front of a computer.
“It was definitely a tough transition just because we didn't get to have an opportunity to have spring ball this year, so that was eight months in a row without putting football pads on,” Allen said. “So, to get out on the field was another opportunity for us to learn the scheme a little bit better and learn how Coach Kap wants us to hit certain blocks in certain ways and things. I'd say at first it was a little bit rusty, just because we didn't play football for a month before that, but after the second day I would say we're really starting to get the hang of things. … We knew where to go and we knew what to do, but just the technique behind it was the hardest part to teach over Zoom.
“So being able to do that in person was really the biggest blessing because now that we know the technique, Coach Kap wants us to use in these situations we can work on it on our own.”
Even as Allen navigated the uncertain offseason, he never wavered from his commitment to play. While four other Spartans opted out of a fall season, Allen was determined to be on the field.
That doesn’t seem like a stretch for a fifth-year senior, but Allen also had the unique perspective of seeing his brother, Brian, go through a battle with COVID-19. In mid-April, Brian Allen was the first NFL player to disclose he had tested positive for the virus, hindering his rehab from a leg injury that forced him to miss the final seven games of the regular season for the Rams after starting the first nine.
“When I first heard the news, I was a little bit shocked and pretty nervous, just to see how he was doing,” Allen said. “I called him right away and asked him how he was and things, and he said his biggest symptoms were that he couldn't smell out of his nose and he had a little bit of trouble breathing, but other than that, they thought he was doing all right. So I was just getting a little reassurance from him that he was OK.
“It stinks that he got it, but I'm just thankful that he's safe now.”
Brian Allen is safe and getting ready for his third season with the Rams. That season begins Sunday night against the Cowboys.
For Matt Allen, though, there’s no telling when his final season will kick off. However, when it does, he’s hoping the unexpected time off turns into a positive.
“I’m looking at it as more of a blessing in disguise than necessarily like a curse,” Allen said. “This is (Tucker’s) first season, so being able to just have that extra time is really a blessing in disguise. I’m just really grateful to be able to have another five months with the new strength staff and an opportunity to get bigger and better, and another five months to work with Coach Kap and the rest of the offensive staff and try and get as mentally prepared as I can for the season.”