Kevin Gorman: Steelers safety feels at home in Pittsburgh
Marcus Allen shares a name with a Pro Football Hall of Fame running back and has another for a godfather.
What the Steelers' rookie safety from Penn State is making the most of, however, is sharing a hometown with his father.
“I'm definitely enjoying it,” Allen said last week after an OTA session. “I love Pittsburgh.”
His father, Shawn Allen, grew up in Homewood and graduated from Westinghouse before moving to Silver Spring, Md., where Marcus was reared.
“I was ecstatic when he was drafted to Pittsburgh,” Shawn Allen said. “That was the dream in the back of my mind during the course of this entire process. The Pittsburgh Steelers were his favorite team. We came to Pittsburgh and were in the Strip District when the Steelers won Super Bowl XL. His ties to Pittsburgh are extremely strong.”
As a child, Allen spent summers visiting family here. His aunts took him to Kennywood, but his favorite memories are backyard barbecues at the Race Street home of his grandparents, Thelma and Clyde Allen, who both died in 2016.
Marcus was close to his grandparents, and nurses used his name as motivation for his grandmother. His grandfather died less than two weeks before Marcus played in the Pitt-Penn State game at Heinz Field.
“We went by my grandmother's house, just to look at it and see how it looked and it looks completely different,” Marcus said. “It's sad, but it brings back memories and makes me want to ball even harder.”
The hometown ties are important to Marcus, who has no shortage of motivation after dropping to the fifth round of the NFL Draft.
“I grew up a Steelers fan, so this is a dream come true,” he said. “Every day, I work to get better. I want to be the best I can be. I don't want to ever lose this.”
While he isn't named after the Raiders great, Marcus Allen is intent on making a name for himself.
“It used to be weird to me when I was kid, but I got over it,” Marcus said. “I always wanted people to say my name and look at it for me, not the Hall of Famer.”
Marcus, however, has made the most of his connection to his godfather, Curtis Martin, the former Pitt and Patriots and Jets star who is Shawn Allen's longtime friend.
Martin has been a mentor to Marcus, and he shared tips on everything from preparing to play pro football to handling his finances during a dinner in New York City before the NFL Draft.
“He gives me a lot of things to look out for, on and off the field,” Marcus said. “It means a lot. I don't take it lightly, especially because it's coming from a Hall of Famer, but I'm trying to impress these coaches.”
Marcus hasn't had much of a chance to do that, nursing a hamstring injury during OTAs. He's hoping to make a positive impression soon, whether it's during the mandatory three-day minicamp this week or at training camp in Latrobe.
“I've got to show what I can do on the field,” Marcus said. “You don't understand. I've got this fire, this drive instilled in me. A lot of teams passed up on me. I've got a lot to prove, and I want to prove it.”
Allen proved himself at Penn State, where he got to know Steelers legend Franco Harris. They spent time together at the TopGolf event at Heinz Field, where Harris recently introduced the Allens to Rocky Bleier, much to Shawn's delight. Shawn even took Marcus to Vento's Pizza in East Liberty, where they took a photo with Big Al Vento, one of the generals of Franco's Italian Army.
“I don't feel that it's an accident. I don't think it's a coincidence. I felt everything fell in line,” Shawn said. “We expected Marcus to be drafted a lot sooner. We felt them drafting Terrell (Edmunds in the first round) shut the door on the possibility of him coming to Pittsburgh.
“Looking back, even though I had wished for him to be drafted sooner, I'm glad he got drafted by an organization like Pittsburgh, with what their philosophy is and how they treat people. I feel everything is going to work out exactly like it's supposed to do.”
So far, it's making Marcus Allen feel right at home.