North Xtra: Patience pays for NA grad as Slippery Rock standout

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When Gary Allen arrived on the Slippery Rock University football team in 2010, he knew playing time would be minimal early on.

Allen, a middle linebacker, played the same position as Zach Sheridan, a future preseason All-American and team captain.

Allen, a North Allegheny High School graduate, did not see the presence of Sheridan as a roadblock in his ability to get playing time, but rather as a benefit.

"Coming in as a freshman, I knew we had Zach Sheridan in front of me," Allen said. "He was one of the best to come through there. I had to wait my turn to play. I think following in his footsteps and seeing what he brought to the field and to the game helped me."

The Slippery Rock team played this season with heavy hearts after Sheridan, a 2011 Slippery Rock graduate, died this summer, the victim of a much-publicized shooting in Oakland in early August. The Slippery Rock players wore a commemorative decal with Sheridan's jersey number (4) on the back of their helmets this season.

On the field, Allen put together a Sheridan-esque season.

Allen was named a team captain in the offseason. He finished the season as The Rock's fourth-leading tackler with 60 tackles (21 solo, 39 assisted). He had one tackle for a loss and returned one interception for 24 yards. Allen also broke up three passes and forced two fumbles. His performance earned him first-team All-Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference West honors.

Allen finished his four-year career with 178 career tackles (69 solo, 109 assisted).

"Playing with Zach, it helped me when my name was called," Allen said. "Just the way he approached practice and how he approached the offseason is what I picked up the most. College is a different level. You have to go to practice and focus every day, you have to step up your game a little bit more."

"[Earning All-PSAC honors] is a great accomplishment. I have been working hard my whole life to play college ball," Allen said. "To get that recognition kind of justified why I spent all that time in the weight room and all that time busting my butt in the offseason, to get ready and perform for my team. It is also nice to get respect from the conference. You don't always get that at Slippery Rock."

He helped lead Slippery Rock to a 9-1 regular season, a trip to the PSAC championship game and a berth in the NCAA Division II playoffs. It was The Rock's first trip to the Division II playoffs since 1999.

The Slippery Rock season came to an end on Nov. 23 when fifth-seeded Slippery Rock fell, 27-20, to Winston Salem State University in a first-round game. Winston Salem was the 2012 national runner-up.

The loss also marked the end of Allen's collegiate career.

"Being a senior, it was kind of an eye-opener," Allen said. "You are a freshman and then all of a sudden it is your senior year. Your career rolls by so fast."

The transition to collegiate football was an easy one for Allen, coming from a North Allegheny program that is one of the best in the state.

"Going from that level of a program to college, it definitely helped," Allen said. "At NA we run it almost like a college program. You go against a lot of kids who have good football careers ahead of them. The speed is obviously different and the strength and size of the guys is different but mentally, you are going from a high school program, as big as you can find in Pennsylvania."

Allen was also a team captain in high school.

"As a senior, you just start to take that leadership role and try to bring everyone to another level," Allen said. "You have to practice a little bit harder and study more film and try to help the team be a team."

Allen is on pace to graduate in May with a degree in criminal justice. He plans on serving in the Navy after college.

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