Post by Tom on Sept 25, 2016 8:54:44 GMT -5
Posted Sep 24, 2016 at 5:45 PM
Updated Sep 24, 2016 at 6:40 PM
By Jennifer Toland
Telegram & Gazette Staff
NORTHBORO — Mark Allen’s introduction to football happened at a very early age.
“I have pictures of me at a week old being held by Holy Cross players,” said Mark, whose dad, the late Dan Allen, was an assistant on the HC staff when Mark was born.
By the time Mark was able to walk and run and eventually throw and catch, he never missed a chance to be by his dad’s side, whether it was on the practice field, in the locker room or on a road trip. When Mark Allen grew up, he soon knew, he wanted to be just like his dad. And he is, in so many ways.
Mark’s younger brother, Taylor, who was born in 1990, Dan’s first year as Boston University’s coach, remembers running around at practice, riding in the golf cart and being there on game days. After starring as a tight end and long snapper at Endicott College, Taylor hoped to pursue a professional playing career. In 2012, he had a tryout with the Jacksonville Jaguars. When that didn’t materialize, Taylor, too, decided to do what his dad did.
“The next best thing if you can’t play it,” Taylor said, “is to teach it.”
Mark is in his fifth season as Algonquin Regional’s defensive coordinator. He previously coached at Worcester Academy for four years. Taylor is in his second season with the Tomahawks, and he oversees the varsity tight ends and is the JV team’s offensive coordinator.
“The one thing I always wanted to do was to be able to coach with my dad,” Mark said. “Not being able to coach with my dad, I said the next best thing would be to coach with my brother.”
Dan Allen, who was an assistant on the Holy Cross staffs of Rick Carter and Mark Duffner and returned to HC to become head coach from 1996-2003, passed away in 2004. He was 48.
The little boys who used to amble along the sideline with their father are young men now, husbands and dads themselves. Mark, 31, and his wife, Heather, live in Marlboro with their 3-year-old daughter, Harper. Mark works full time as a dispatcher at the Westboro Police Department. Taylor, 26, and his wife, Rebecca, live in Westboro, where the Allens grew up. Taylor has a 5-year-old son, Taylor Jr., and two step-daughters, Alexia and Makaela. Taylor is a special education aide at Algonquin.
“They’ve grown up exactly the way their mom and dad had hoped they would,” said Leo Fanning, a longtime assistant under Dan Allen and one of his closest friends who is now the assistant head coach at Bentley. “They are solid men, and they are family men, and they believe in the sport of football as an extension of family.”
The Allens’ mom, Laura, lives in the family home in Westboro, and their sister, Danielle, graduated from Framingham State and works as a personal trainer.
Dan Allen was revered as the “father of the Holy Cross football family,” and his interaction with his staff and players, his investment in them and his joy in being around them are the coaching characteristics his sons bring to their jobs, too.
“What I remember most is the way he treated people,” Mark said. “A lot of coaches preach family, and I think my dad truly lived it with his programs. You just remember groups of players and coaches coming over for dinner. He really lived the family mantra. If you want to preach family, you’ve got to live it. I don’t hesitate to tell any of the kids on the team that I care about them. I’ll give them a hug. I’ll tell them I love them because you don’t know if that’s the only time they hear affection. They may go home and say, ‘Wow. Coach cares about me.’ Family is big; that’s what I took away from him.”
Taylor said he frequently gets messages on Facebook from Dan’s former players.
“They tell a random story, not something that’s in the stat book, but a moment in those kids’ lives that they’ll remember forever,” said Taylor, recalling a message from former BU player Kyle McKenna, who is now a high school coach in New York. “He said they were lifting weights one day, benching, and my dad walked up to him and said, ‘You got this. You got this. A couple more. A couple more.’ And just from my dad being there and encouraging him, he beat his personal record for reps that day.
“As a coach now,” Taylor said, “you know you’re going to have an impact with the kids, and it’s up to you to make it a positive one. He seemed to always have a positive impact on everyone he worked with.”
Sitting on the bleachers near the Algonquin practice field last Wednesday afternoon, Mark and Taylor loved talking about their dad.
“It keeps him alive,” Mark said.
Mark was a senior at Westboro High when his father passed away, Taylor a middle school student.
In August 2003, Dan Allen announced he was suffering from multiple chemical sensitivity. The condition robbed him of his mobility from the neck down, but it never took away his competitive spirit. He coached the Crusaders during the 2003 season from a wheelchair.
“I think he kind of used his own words of encouragement to get through his hardest times,” Taylor said. “The dedication he showed, even from a wheelchair, inspired others, and it does even now.”
Mark and Taylor said they are still in close contact with Fanning, Bob Bradley, Vince Sinagra and Jeff Oliver, all former assistants of their father, and, more importantly, loyal friends and a great support system during his illness and since his death.
In 2010, the Allen family established the Dan Allen Foundation for the purpose of raising awareness of Multiple Chemical Sensitivity Disorder and similar neurological disorders caused by exposure to environmental toxins, chemicals and pollutants. Through fundraisers, the foundation has provided aid to families and scholarships. Mark said in the future the foundation hopes to run a free football clinic for inner-city youth in Worcester.
“Help people and give back,” Mark said, are the missions of the Dan Allen Foundation.
When Justin McKay became the Algonquin coach in 2012, Mark Allen was the first to join his staff.
“He’s been with us from day one,” McKay said, “and the professionalism that he operates under and the positivity he brings to everything he does is infectious. It’s something we really love and really appreciate.”
McKay said Mark has done a great job running Algonquin’s Leadership Council program.
In recent years, Fanning has introduced Mark to other coaching professionals at clinics.
“They were all very impressed with the fact that Mark was following in his dad’s footsteps,” Fanning said. “They knew Danny, and they just looked at Mark and said, ‘Mark is just like Danny.’ I can say the same thing about Taylor. They are both intense competitors and quality people who want to do what’s right by the kids.”
Fanning and Bradley mentored Mark when he first got into coaching at Worcester Academy.
McKay was on the Wachusett Regional staff when Taylor played for Westboro High. Taylor was an assistant at Algonquin in 2014, lived and coached in Cincinnati last year, and returned this season.
“I was excited to get to bring him on (to the Algonquin staff),” McKay said. “Just his expertise and the little nuances he brings, and his excitement level. And the thing I tell people about Taylor is he will find a way to get the message across to you no matter how you need to hear it. He has the ability to sit down, one-on-one, and find your best way for you to learn the material and connect with you. He and Mark are both great educators.”
The Tomahawks have posted two straight winning seasons (including eight victories last year) and are off to a 3-0 start in 2016 after Friday's 34-7 win over North Middlesex.
Mark said Dan would advise and definitely encourage him and Taylor in their love of coaching kids. “He’d be behind us 100 percent,” Mark said.
Mark and Taylor Allen remember their dad the way he lived, by the Golden Rule. They are carrying on his legacy.
“When somebody reaches out with a quick story or about how he impacted them and how they’re using that in their lives today,” Mark said, “it hits home because it’s what we want to do now as coaches, have a positive impact, today and 15 or 20 years down the road.”