Instead of throwing the ball, Manistee High School graduate Tai Allen is defending the pass for the Michigan Tech football team.
Although he was good enough as a quarterback to earn All-Conference and All-State Honorable Mention honors in 2016, Allen immediately was projected to play defensive back for the Huskies when he came out of high school in 2017
Redshirted as a freshman, Allen — at 5-foot-11 and 171 pounds not your prototypical college signal caller — played in all 10 games for the Huskies in 2018 when they went 4-6.
He ended up as a starter on the defense in 2019 at free safety and, according to Huskies head coach Steve Olson had a very solid season. The Huskies improved to 5-5 last season.
“We saw in high school his physical play, and how he came up and supported the run and tackled, and that was where we believed he’d be able to play for us,” Olson said in a phone interview.
“Over the course of time the past couple of years, he did step forward and I think he’s done a tremendous job of taking advantage of that and doing very well.”
Allen is a very sure tackler, Olson added, comes downhill and does a very good job of wrapping up for his size, bearing testimony to his physicality.
While he does a good job supporting the run, Allen is still able to defend the pass. His future as he continues to grow in the Michigan Tech football program is bright.
“We’re excited where he’s at, and where he’s going to grow into,” Olson added.
He admits he was almost upset at first when he was told he was being redshirted, Allen grudgingly accepted it, and eventually found that it was a sound decision.
Especially after his switch to defense.
“I found out that it’s a lot more complicated than in high school,” Allen said over the phone. “Most guys need a year or more to get adjusted to some of the complexity of everything.
“Like coverages, and different situations. Just a lot more in-depth than high school. I’m actually glad I redshirted so I could get a grasp of it.”
He missed not playing quarterback in the beginning, but realized that he didn’t necessarily have the size to play the position in college.
Now, though, he’s actually happy he made the switch.
“It is different,” said Allen. “It’s definitely weird not having the ball in your hands every play. But, free safety is kind of like the quarterback of the defense, actually.
“You make the calls, and get the secondary adjusted. It’s a little bit similar.”
Allen’s first playing experience after his redshirt year was on special teams and certain passing situations.
It allowed him adjust to the speed of the college game.
“Once you know how fast plays can hit, you have to think faster,” Allen said. “You have to be more on your toes, and aware of all the situations that could happen, like down and distances.
“You just have to do everything you can to prepare yourself for the next play. Like watching film and knowing what their tendencies are in certain situations. You have an idea of what they can possibly run.”
Now that he’s more relaxed with his place on the team secured, Allen is excited for next season. He can just play the game.
“It’s what I’ve been waiting for since I’ve been here,” Allen says, “is just being able to put myself in a position where I can just be an athlete.”
Greg Gielczyk is an award-winning sports columnist who was sports editor at the Manistee News Advocate for over 30 years. You can reach him at email@example.com with story ideas.