Male Athlete of the Year: Hinsdale Central’s Brian Allen

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Brian Allen’s athletic career started when he was 4 years old.

He’d hang out with the Junior Red Devils youth wrestling program. “I would only last so long,” he said. “My attention span would give out.”

Allen wanted to start playing football a couple years later. But his father wouldn’t let him until he completed a fitness test, something like 500 jump rope reps.

“I remember working at it to get it,” Allen said.

From those humble beginnings Allen has grown into a national-caliber athlete in not one but two sports. He was one of the top offensive line prospects in the Class of 2014, a four-star recruit ranked as the No. 5 center in the country by Rivals.com. And he was a four-time state placer in wrestling who was ranked sixth nationally at 285 pounds by IntermatWrestle.com.

For being one of the best in the country two times over — in an age of increasing specialization — Allen is the Sun-Times Male Athlete of the Year.

Allen headed to Michigan State earlier this month to get a jump-start on his college football career. The idea was that he’d narrow his focus to that sport, where he will play alongside his older brother Jack, who also was a football star and wrestling state champ at Hinsdale Central.

But walking away from wrestling is even harder than Allen thought. So with the blessing of the Spartans’ football coaching staff, he has just started working out with MSU’s wrestling team as well.

“I’m going to see how it goes this summer,” he said. “The wrestling thing’s not for sure yet.

“It’s a football school. I didn’t pick MSU to come here and (just) have fun.”

But having fun is something Allen became known for in high school. He was self-deprecating about his size — currently 6-foot-2 and 300 pounds — saying at the beginning of last wrestling season: “I’m a little too skinny right now. My abs are showing for the first time in my life.”

Allen’s talent was no joke, though.

“He was extremely tough, by far the toughest lineman we had over there,” said Rich Tarka, who was Allen’s football coach at Hinsdale Central.

And probably the most versatile. Allen played tackle, guard and center during his high school career — and that was after he played quarterback as a seventh-grader and fullback and linebacker in eighth grade.

“Jack was a great (high school) football player, but Brian has a little more athleticism,” Tarka said. “He’s going to help Michigan State sooner rather than later.”

Allen Trieu, who covers Midwest recruiting for Scout.com, also is bullish on Allen.

“This gets used a lot, but Brian really is a throwback type of player,” Trieu said. “He’s tough, he plays extremely hard and has excellent technique. He proved it in camps, during the season and at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl.”

But Allen’s football senior season was a tough one. The Red Devils came into 2013 with high expectations, but were hit hard by injuries and finished 5-5 after a first-round loss in the Class 8A playoffs.

“That was frustrating,” he said. “We didn’t really have a quarterback (after starter Chase Hamilton was injured).”

Wrestling didn’t have quite the ending Allen was looking for either. Never mind that his final prep season would have been a spectacular success for virtually anyone else. A state champ at 285 in Class 3A as a junior after getting third at 215 and 285 as a freshman and sophomore, Allen went 45-2 last winter.

His two defeats both came in overtime — to Lincoln-Way East’s Nick Allegretti and to Moline’s Adarios Jones in the 285 state final.

“Quite honestly, I’d say my last year was my worst year,” Allen said.

But a not-so-good year for Brian Allen is still pretty good by any other measure.

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