Future Notre Dame safety Derrik Allen to honor father in Army Bowl

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

SAN ANTONIO — Once given the opportunity, there was no doubt that Derrik Allen was going to play in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl.

The son of a former field artillery officer, Allen wanted to honor his father. The future Irish safety even opted to have surgery on his left hand and end his senior season at Marietta (Ga.) Lassiter in order to allow enough time to heal up before the Army Bowl.

“It definitely means a lot,” Allen said. “He's the one who raised me to who I am. He's the one who taught me everything I knew. I knew I had to do it for him, but also for myself."

Allen, a four-star recruit, will be joined by four other Notre Dame signees in Saturday’s game at the Alamodome in San Antonio: defensive tackle Jayson Ademilola, quarterback Phil Jurkovec, linebacker Shayne Simon and tight end George Takacs. They will represent the Irish in a nationally televised event on NBC starting at 1 p.m. EST.

Allen spoke with the Tribune on Thursday before the news of defensive coordinator Mike Elko’s departure to Texas A&M was announced, but he quickly took to Twitter to say that he didn’t sign with Notre Dame because of a coach and wouldn’t be doing any interviews on the matter.

Like the other 11 defensive recruits in Notre Dame’s 2018 class, Allen completed a National Letter of Intent during the early signing period in December. Barring a release or an appeal, they’re locked into a future at Notre Dame.

Allen committed to the Irish last Febuary after Elko was hired at Notre Dame. But he had his eyes on the Irish well before that. He made an unofficial visit for the loss to Michigan State in September of 2016 and received an offer while visiting for a junior day in March.

"We had taken enough visits and gone through the process enough when he made the decision,” Allen’s father said Tuesday, also before the Elko news broke. “He had actually said earlier that Notre Dame was his choice.

“I told him, 'No, it's too soon for me to make that decision,' and made him hold off some. So when we came back around to it, I was very comfortable with the decision."

Allen’s father, also named Derrik, has been down watching his son practice all week in San Antonio.

“I'm so happy that he got the opportunity to come to an event like this,” Allen’s father said. “All his hard work paid off. This is something that he wanted to accomplish. On the flip side, I'm sitting here going, 'This is going by quick.' This is the ending chapter for high school football. It's a little bit nostalgic."

Allen hasn’t played in a game since Oct. 20 when he injured his hand. He sat out the two final games of his regular season and only recently received clearance to play in the game. Allen said he’s still working on getting all the bend back in the left pinky that required a pin to be placed in it.

Still Allen has shown the ability that has him slated as one of the top recruits in Notre Dame’s 2018 class. He intercepted a deep pass during Thursday’s practice and should be in line for plenty of action Saturday at free safety.

Rivals ranks Allen as the No. 7 safety and No. 66 overall in the 2018 class. 247Sports slates him as the No. 10 safety and No. 135 overall.

But Allen received at least one early negative review while preparing for the Army Bowl. In a Rivals article written Tuesday by analysts Adam Friedman and Josh Helmholdt, Allen was described as having a tough week.

“A bigger safety prospect, Allen has had a hard time with quicker receivers towards the sideline,” they wrote. “He could find himself playing closer to the line of scrimmage in the game and when he gets to South Bend."

Suggestions that Allen could end up as a linebacker have followed him for some time due to his size (6-foot-2, 215 pounds) and a report that Clemson had been considering him at that position rather than safety. Allen seems well aware of that story line.

“Just show people I can move,” Allen said when asked what he’s trying to prove this week. “I'm fast. I can play safety at the next level. Show people I can do it.”

Allen will be near the top of the list of young safeties with a chance to see the field for Notre Dame’s defense next season. Head coach Brian Kelly sang his praises after Allen signed last month.

“He was the first guy that we saw that had the ability to cover man-to-man, play the ball in the air and get the ball down on the ground with his size,” Kelly said. “That was the trait that we had to have in this class. It was a must, must, must. It was underlined like five times. We have to find this player.”

Who will be in charge of Notre Dame’s defense in 2018 has yet to be determined, but Allen was impressed by the improvement Elko sparked this past season.

"I've been following Notre Dame since I was a freshman, so I've seen the difference between coach (Brian) VanGorder and coach Elko,” Allen said. “The defense this year brings a lot of energy. A lot more energy, a lot more focus, a lot more plays."

Allen wants to make some of those plays when he arrives at Notre Dame later this year. But first, he’ll get a chance to show his skills on Saturday while honoring his father’s service in the Army.

“The Army game just means so much more,” Allen’s father said. “I'm excited. It's really neat.”

Hat games

Two recruits scheduled to announce verbal commitments during Saturday’s Army Bowl have named the Irish as finalists in their recruitment: five-star wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown and four-star offensive guard Chris Murray.

Notre Dame will likely be represented with hats sitting on a table during the announcements for both recruits, but the Irish appear unlikely to add commitments from either of them.

The Irish have continued to push for St. Brown, the youngest brother of now former Irish wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown, in recent weeks with Stanford and USC joining Notre Dame in Amon-Ra St. Brown’s top three. The youngest St. Brown is expected to follow his high school teammate JT Daniels, a five-star quarterback, and pick the Trojans.

Murray also teamed with St. Brown and Daniels at Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei. He will end up committing to either UCLA or Stanford as the Irish haven’t been actively pursuing him since his official visit in October.

U.S. ARMY ALL-AMERICAN BOWL VIEWING GUIDE: All five Irish signees will play for the East team wearing black jerseys.

DT Jayson Ademilola (No. 57)

S Derrik Allen (No. 20)

QB Phil Jurkovec (No. 15)

LB Shayne Simon (No. 33)

TE George Takacs (No. 9).

The West team, wearing yellow jerseys, will feature WR target Amon-Ra St. Brown (No. 9).

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Four-star safety Derrik Allen will be one of five Notre Dame signees playing in Saturday's U.S. Army All-American Bowl. (Photo courtesy of Rivals)