Over a dozen years ago, Ohio State fans discovered how tough Will Allen is.
That toughness is something that has helped Allen remain in the NFL, long after many of his peers hung up their cleats for good.
In January of 2003, Allen was apart of one of the greatest college football games of all-time, a game that saw the Buckeyes defeat the heavily favored Miami Hurricanes 31-24 in double overtime in the 2003 BCS National Championship Game. That game featured 58 future NFL players that included Andre Johnson, Jonathan Vilma, Willis McGahee, Nick Mangold, A.J. Hawk, Will Smith, Chris Gamble, and Vince Wilfork, among others. It also included Allen, a player that was never a star but has battled to remain in the NFL after 11 seasons.
Allen delivered one of the game's most enduring plays, as he leveled McGahee with a devastating hit that knocked the All-American running back out of the game. Allen continued to make big plays the following season, making a game-saving tackle in Ohio State's 44-38, triple overtime win over N.C State. Despite being flanked by more celebrated teammates, Allen found a niche for himself back them, just as he is doing now with the Steelers.
With the exception of a short stint with Dallas, Allen has spent the last five seasons in Pittsburgh after starting his career with Tampa Bay. Allen's physical style of play along with his work ethic are among his strengths as he looks to serve as a mentor to the Steelers rookie defensive backs in Senquez Golson, Doran Grant, and Gerod Holliman. In an interview with steelers.com, Allen said that while his new teammates' athleticism is obvious, the proof will be in the pudding at training camp later this summer.
"Some guys are showing they can play well, but we are only in jerseys and helmets," said Allen. "A lot of guys are showing quickness, speed and athleticism. Training camp will show who we are, what the defensive backs can do."
A veteran, Allen knows what championship teams looks like. During his first year with the Steelers, Allen was a member of Pittsburgh's last team to reach a Super Bowl. He remembers what it took for that team to reach the biggest stage in football, and he knows this current team will need to elevate their games during each practice in order to have a shot at similar success.
"We have a lot of growing to do," Allen said. "We are nearly where we want to be. There is something to get excited for, and to be encouraged about. I would like to see us progress, not make the same mistakes twice. We have to start a lot faster than we did last year to be world champions."
Never a flashy player, Allen's game is simple: know your role, execute your role. His mindset is similar, and it's centered around everyone executing their collective roles in order to achieve the ultimate goal.
"Guys have to just do their job. If you do your job, execute and bring your best, we can go where we want to go. Troy was a huge part of this team, nobody can be like him. Nobody wants to measure up to that.
"If everybody does their job, plays in the confines of the defense and does what their bodies allow them too, we can do a lot of great things this year."
Allen's leadership can help his young teammates do great things, too. He can help Golson develop a practice regiment needed to become an immediate starter. He can help Grant develop into a quality team player, much like he has been during his career. He can help Holliman on his tackling technique. Allen is excited about these tasks, along with the other intangibles that come with being a member of the Steelers.
"Just with the community, my foundation, what I am doing and the team, helping the young players and coming to work every day. I love the environment. It’s conducive to winning."
That environment is fueled by players like Allen, veterans that are passing on their knowledge to the next generation of Steelers.