September 8, 2023

Hogan: Allen Adding to All-Star Credentials

It’s been a wild ride for Dejon Allen.

Straight outta Compton to the University of Hawaii, a whirlwind tour through the NFL, then north to Toronto, where the Argonauts offensive lineman has found a home. He was named an East Division All-Star last year and is well on his way to receiving individual post-season recognition once again.

The 29-year-old starred at Manuel Dominguez High School in Compton, California, playing both offensive and defensive lines. His ability got him several looks from D-1 schools, but his options became limited, nonetheless.

“I had something like 12 offers coming out of high school,” Allen explained to Argonauts.ca. “But my grades weren’t high enough, so I had to score super high on the ACT (American College Testing), so most schools didn’t want to wait for that because I had to take it three times. I took it the third time, passed the test, and the only offer left was from Hawaii.”

Heading some 4,000 kilometres to the southwest from Compton to Honolulu provided some culture shock for Allen. He loved his time there, but life was a bit different from back home in SoCal.

“The first thing I noticed that was totally different was when we had a little get together and they were cooking a pig in the ground at a luau,” said Allen, still wide eyed when telling the story almost a decade later. “I was able to walk five minutes to the beach and it was warm at night, warm during the day year-round.”

Allen was a star with the Rainbow Warriors, the first two years as a guard, the final two at tackle. He dressed for 50 games and started 49 of them, surrendering just one sack over those four seasons. His play was so stellar that he was named the team’s Most Outstanding Offensive Player – twice.

Yes, you read that correctly; an offensive lineman was twice voted the team’s best offensive player, winning an award that is coincidentally named after long-time Hawaii head coach June Jones, the one-time Argo quarterback.

While Allen was also named All-Conference twice, being awarded the team’s offensive MVP twice is unheard of for an o-lineman, and something that meant a great deal to him.

“It was huge for me,” he admitted. “I was kind of surprised, but I feel that I worked for it, but it was definitely something I was surprised by.”

It was then off to the NFL as an undrafted free agent by the Bears, where he would spend his first season. He’d be released by Chicago the next year, spend some time in Green Bay, then play in the XFL. It was a tough go for Allen, who preferred to play tackle, but at 6’3”, 300 pounds, is undersized to play on the outside. The NFL teams wanted him to move inside, but it never felt right to him.

“My mindset was that I wanted to play tackle – I wasn’t into centre too much – but I’m undersized so they said play centre or get out. That’s a huge reason why. I was playing guard for pretty much the two years; I just feel my body feels more natural at tackle. I just like playing tackle, I think it’s the hardest position on the field.”

Allen in Double Blue is a perfect fit.

“I didn’t think I had a chance up here because I knew that guards are usually going to be Canadian and tackles are usually going to be American. I’m undersized, so I didn’t think I had a chance here, but I had played two years of tackle at Hawaii. Vince ended up calling me and we made it happen.”

The Vince that Allen referred to is Argos assistant general manager Vince Magri. He had his eye on the lineman for quite some time before he was able to sign him.

“We watched him play a lot of tackle in college and play at an extremely high level,” Magri told Argonauts.ca. “When we got to see him in an NFL setting, even though he was playing guard, we’d already seen him on tape playing tackle. Seeing him live and up close, even though he was playing a different position, you could still see the movement ability and there was no doubt that physically and athletically he could play tackle up here.”

Allen has only played tackle in Toronto, but has played both the left and right sides, something not all offensive linemen are able to do. He played exceptionally well as a rookie at left tackle in 2021, then moving over to the right side last year, where he was named an East Division All-Star for the first time.

He showed his versatility this season in a recent game against Ottawa, where he was asked to move back to the left side for a few plays.

“I would say it’s more about my athleticism,” said Allen, before adding with a smile, “I think I’m better at left tackle.”

The Argos have allowed just 10 sacks this season, by far the lowest in the league. They’ve also opened wide holes all season for A.J. Ouellette and Andrew Harris. It’s the best o-line the Argos have assembled in several years, and whether he’s playing the right or left side, Dejon Allen will continue to be a main reason for that group’s success.