By Paul Tenorio
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 2, 2010; 10:11 PM
When Jonathan Allen enrolled at Stone Bridge last spring, he told the school's football coaches that he played defensive back. They assumed that meant the 6-foot-3, 215-pound freshman with the 4.5 speed also could play wide receiver.
Over the summer, it became apparent that Allen wasn't a natural pass catcher. So in the Bulldogs' first scrimmage, Allen found himself on the defensive line - a position he had never played. He was an anonymous sophomore in a foreign position on one of the area's top teams hoping to have any sort of impact.
"I was just trying to make a name," Allen said. It didn't take long.
On one play, Allen chased Dominion running back Deandre Reaves from behind. He eventually caught up to the West Virginia-bound senior 30 yards downfield and laid a hit so hard he broke his own chinstrap.
The soft-spoken new kid might not have been the wide receiver coaches initially hoped, but on the defensive line he looked like he could be special.
"Surprise," Coach Mickey Thompson said, smiling widely.
As No. 1 Stone Bridge (13-0) prepares to face second-ranked Osbourn (12-0) and its star quarterback, Dominique Terrell, on Saturday in the Virginia AAA Division 5 state semifinals, the sophomore who has gone from surprise to standout will be vital to the Bulldogs' efforts to return to the state final for the third time in four seasons.
Allen has proved to be among the most valuable players on one of the state's top defensive units, setting school single-season records with 17 sacks and seven forced fumbles. He is tied for second on the team with 52 first-hit tackles and is first with 32 assists. He also has two fumble recoveries, five pass knock downs and one blocked kick.
"He has the potential definitely to be the most highly-recruited player I've ever been associated with," said Thompson, who has sent numerous players to BCS programs in his 20 years of coaching at Stone Bridge and nearby Park View, including two who have gone on to the NFL. "I think at the end of the season, after we finish here, you'll see multiple, multiple offers coming out. And it's only going to grow."
It's been a quick and somewhat surprising evolution. As coaches watched Allen run routes and catch passes over the summer, something just didn't feel right.
Allen caught the passes, but he did so with his body and not his hands. His route-running didn't seem smooth.
"Down the road he may very well be a very good receiver for us," Thompson said. "But it wasn't something that came natural to him."
Still, Thompson had never seen a player with such quickness and ability to get to the football. Allen's intensity was unmatched. "When you see that, you know you have to get him on the field somewhere," said Thompson, who decided to try Allen on defense.
Despite playing mostly on the interior instead of the edge, where he can be most effective, it didn't take long for Allen to make an impact. After two games, Allen had recorded four sacks. By Week 8 he had tied the school single-season record of 10.
"He causes problems," said McLean Coach Jim Patrick, whose team lost to Stone Bridge, 38-0, on Oct. 29. "We tried to option him and he could play the read and the quarterback. We tried to run away from him and he chased us down from behind. . . . in the pass game we made the mistake of trying to put one guy on him [and he had three sacks]. You have to game plan for him, you have to be aware of where he is."
Allen has a reserved nature that likely stems from his father, retired Sergeant First Class Richard Allen, who has stressed the importance of remaining humble and letting one's work ethic speak for itself. That personality has helped him transition smoothly into a defense led by seniors who have already played for a state title.
On the field, though, Allen hardly internalizes. There, the emotion one expects from a teenager is finally unleashed - often with devastating effects for the opposition.
On one punt return against McLean, Allen doubled back and leveled a Highlanders player near the Stone Bridge sideline, sending him flying several yards out of bounds. Allen flexed and looked upward, screaming and jumping up as his teammate took the return 53 yards down the sideline to set up a touchdown.
"He's a totally different player on the field," said senior lineman Calvin Hollenhorst, one of Allen's closest friends on the team. "He's fiery, he's explosive."
The Bulldogs hope that Allen's energy can make a difference at Osbourn on Saturday. Allen will be among those charged with limiting Terrell, one of the state's top recruits, who has rushed for 2,010 yards and 30 touchdowns and has thrown for 1,305 yards and another 15 scores.
While Thompson emphasized that it will take a total team effort to stop Terrell, slowing the dangerous quarterback will be one of the first major tests of Allen's nascent but promising career.
"I think we'll be in position in a lot of places, but when you get there can you make the play?" Thompson said. "Who can, who can't? That's the game in a nutshell, right there. We could go out there and put all the [bells and whistles] around, but if we put Jon Allen three yards in front of Terrell and Terrell's got the football, who wins?"