Brent Ratliff scrambling for the Utes
Jesse Allen was on the Jets' practice field Saturday afternoon while an emotional ceremony took place in Blacksburg, Va.
Allen, a fullback who is one of the Green & White's 14 rookie free agents, won't take part in Virginia Tech's graduation ceremony this weekend. The apparel, housing and resource management major is scheduled to don a pro helmet instead of a college mortarboard.
"It is a pretty big accomplishment for me to get my degree," Allen said this week. "I thought minicamp might have been last week, but it didn't work out. I am pursuing a career and a lifestyle, and I have to make sacrifices. I bought my cap and gown, so I guess I'll have that anyway."
Only four fullbacks were selected in the two-day NFL Draft. Allen has waited for good things in the past.
Before signing with Virginia Tech, the Springfield, Mass., native visited a number of colleges including Boston College, Connecticut and Massachusetts. UMass actually offered him a scholarship, but the Hokies got into the mix as well.
"I went to see a bunch of schools. I got a call from [associate head coach] Billy Hite from here at Virginia Tech," Allen said. "I came down here to see the school and absolutely fell in love with it. The people are great down here and I just knew this where I was going to be."
As a preferred walk-on, he was recruited but asked to walk on. The 6'0", 252-pound thumper immediately made his presence felt in the weight room, recording a 351-pound hang clean in the fall of 2002 and earning Super Iron Hokie honors. The following season, his 361-pound power clean set a position record. He didn't dress in any games but played in pair of jayvee contests in 2003.
"I definitely did a lot of hard work in the weight room to kind of catch the coaches' eye," he said. "That helped me out a lot, showing what I could do in there. I didn't see the field until a year and a half later. I worked out with the scout team and stuff and kept my nose to the grindstone."
That opportunity came in 2004 when Allen played in 10 games. When Mike Imoh set the school's single-game rushing record with 243 yards at North Carolina, Allen made his first collegiate start and played 41 snaps. He continued to excel in the weight room, registering a 430-pound bench press.
"I guess at some points I got frustrated, but in the long run I really think it was for the better," he said of the wait prior to '04. "If the coaches said I wasn't ready yet, it was for a reason. I just trusted them, kept working hard and eventually got my shot."
Allen became a common site in the Hokies' backfield the past couple of seasons, appearing in 25 games and making nine starts. He is an old-school blocker, a player who had only 15 career offensive touches but is going to create daylight for the running back.
"I have been living off blocking people. I am going to try to keep on doing that because that is definitely my best feature," he said. "I guess I am more of an action guy."
The opportunity to play for the Jets also brings Allen closer to Springfield. The northward move for him could cut his family's commute by some nine hours.
"I appreciate the Jets because I'm from the Northeast," he said. "I am from Massachusetts. Being in Virginia, I have been 12 hours away from my family for five years now. Being able to come back home is a big plus for me."
Ironically, despite growing up in Patriots country, Allen was a huge Buffalo Bills fan because his dad liked the crew from western New York. This weekend, he'll wear Green & White and hope to make his mark on another AFC East team.
"I hope to come down there and show the coaches I can be a competitor on their team. I plan to work out on special teams and take on some fullback responsibilities if that's possible," he said. "I am just going to work out hard."
Saturday promises to be an emotional day for Allen. He is part of the Virginia Tech family, which suffered 32 enormous losses in April. But the Hokies will try to celebrate Saturday while Allen attempts to make his mark in the National Football League.
"I think we as a school are pulling back together. It was hard times getting through that," he said of the recent tragedy. "But just like you see at our football games, we have a lot of spirit and pride with our school. We are trying to help the families of the victims as much as we can and all the people that were involved."