Blue Collar Man: Andy Alleman Goes Pro

(Jeff Harwell, Zips Sports Photography)

His name is Andy Alleman, and he plays right guard. He's coming to an NFL team near you in less than two weeks. He has overcome slights, snubs, biases and family crisis to stand at the precipice of possible future greatness. And betting against him might be the definition of unwise behavior for any team in need of an offensive lineman whose intensity is matched only by his potential.

The Ground Game

The multi-billion dollar industry that is today’s National Football League was born out of the ground in places like Massillon, Akron, and Canton, cities in northeast Ohio. Intense, amateur inter-city rivalries grew from the 1890s to games in the new century, when special trains would go between Massillon and Canton and back. The Nesser brothers of Columbus took up the flag for this brand of football after some scandals ended Canton’s taste for the pro game for a while. And in 1915, three Cantonians – Messrs. McGregor, Clark and Cusack – joined forces to bring it back with a vengeance. The Canton Bulldogs of that era were staffed with West Virginia Wesleyan star end Earl “Greasy” Neale, who would later coach the Philadelphia Eagles, and a collection of tough guys with names like Tuss McLaughry and Fido Kempton. Most of all, the Canton team was defined by Jim Thorpe, one of the greatest and most prominent athletes, comparatively speaking, in football history.

The new Massillon-Canton rivalry became even more heated, with fans trading in taunts for punches at the railway stations for those special trains, especially when a beaten opponent would sneak back home before receiving their comeuppance. Football busted out all over the state of Ohio – the Massillon and Canton teams joined other organizations. The Akron Silents/Indians/Pros, Toledo Maroons, Dayton Triangles and Columbus Panhandles were but a few of the many short-lived teams which sprang up and played a game that resembled today’s football about as much as a dance recital resembles a slap in the mouth. The first four teams to agree to hold franchises in the NFL came from Ohio, and while Cleveland and Cincinnati represent the pro game now, Canton holds the Hall of Fame. And those other, smaller, towns still hold the game’s heart.

Many players have come from that fertile earth in the last century, but few seem to understand the game’s root toughness these days like Andy Alleman, son of Akron. Born among all the old ghosts on November 20, 1983, Alleman was actually raised in nearby Greentown. “I live in Stark County; that’s where the Pro Football Hall of Fame is – northeast Ohio,” he said. When asked how growing up in a football-mad area formed his childhood, he talked more about family.

“Football became part of my life at a young age – I can’t remember exactly, but I want to say around age six or seven, we started playing flag football. Growing up in Greentown – it’s a modest town, a blue-collar town. Not a lot going on. People get up, they go to work, they come home, and they get ready to do the same thing the next day. It wasn’t necessarily anything out of the ordinary from anywhere else, but I’m proud of where I grew up. I think it gave me a hunger to understand how things are. When things start to roll and go in the right direction like they are now, you appreciate where you came from.”

Akron guard Andy Alleman blocks against Kent State on September 30, 2006 (Jeff Harwell, Zips Sports Photography).

Does that blue-collar attitude stay with him now? This is, after all, a young man known as much as anything for the school lifting records and Combine/Pro Day measurables that speak to an unshakable work ethic. “I think it definitely does,” he said. “Not only the environment I grew up in, but I was blessed and fortunate to have two parents my whole life, who have been married for 30-something years. We grew up in the same small house. I have one older brother – proud of him, he just became a dentist, so that’s a big thing happening around our family. So, I think it definitely helped. No question about it. My dad – I vividly remember him telling me when we were young, ‘We don’t go on a ton of vacations, or this or that’, because we didn’t have a lot of money, but sports was my thing and Boy Scouts was my brother’s thing – he became an Eagle Scout – ‘I’ll make sure you have the nice bat and the nice glove, the nice cleats, you just have to earn them.’

Alleman’s father has been a giving man with his sons, but Andy had none of the “stage father” drama that so many talented young athletes must deal with. “That was his thing – he always came to practice and was always supportive, but never got involved with the booster clubs and things like that, never was a coach. He said, ‘Whatever you’re going to do, you have to earn it.’ It was never one of those behind-the-scenes things … sometimes you see these parents propping their kids up at a young age. When you are young and propped up all your life – when reality hits, it’s going to hit a little harder. He said, ‘If you can’t make it, you can’t make it. Because sports aren’t everything, and football isn’t everything.’ I love football, but there were more important things in life.”

A defensive end at Massillon Washington High School, Alleman actually transferred from another school in North Canton to the more tradition-rich and challenging option. However, this was where he would first see the slights that he’s used as fuel ever since. “I transferred high schools – had more accolades in my junior year than in my senior year because nobody voted for me. And if you don’t get All-This, you can’t get All-That. I didn’t get All-State, and I had 22 (college) offers,” he said. Alleman was Stark County MVP in his senior season, and he made most of the recruiting lists. He also lettered three times in track and field, and made Honor Roll in his four high school years. The offers did indeed pour in, and he headed off to Pitt to continue his march on the defensive line.

But Alleman’s high school coach had seen his future, and it wasn’t there – not as an end, and not at that school. “My coach’s name was Rick Shepas, (and) what he saw was not only a future playing ball, but making a nice living. He felt that it was something I could grow into – not something like, ‘you’re definitely going to be a guard’ As a senior in high school, I went down with the rest of my team to a passing camp in West Virginia, and the O-line coach at the time told me that he could make me an All-American guard. I looked at him and I laughed, because I had never played offensive line in my life. I’m thinking, ‘What is this guy talking about? I’m not playing guard. I’m going to college and taking over the college scene, get a bunch of sacks, make my name defensively and hopefully go to the NFL.’"

Whose Line Is It, Anyway?

Reality told a different tale. After two years at Pitt, Alleman was ready to jump - albeit with a slight push - to Akron in the smaller Mid-American Conference. “I had snubbed Akron the first time around,” he remembered. “Went to Akron on a visit because of a friend of the family – I did it as a favor, because he was a friend of Lee Owens, who was the coach at the time. And as things were going wrong (at Pitt), that just wasn’t how things were working out for whatever reason. It had nothing to do with work ethic, or hard work, or playing ability. I knew I could play. But I had to make a decision. And he approached me with the idea again in my true sophomore year and said, ‘I think you should move to guard.’ So I took a very quick stint at defensive tackle, because I had played defensive end, and then ended up transferring to Akron, sat out the year (2004) and used that as my redshirt year. I played as a true freshman at Pitt, so it wasn’t like I was riding the pine – and then sat out and played scout team, which was a humbling experience.

“I never thought in a million years I’d go to Akron,” he said. “Never thought in a million years I’d play guard. But I said, ‘You know what? I’m going to do whatever it takes to get to the NFL – not only because that’s my dream, but to provide for myself and my family.’”

Ironically, guard may now be the more “glamorous” position, with the mega-lucrative contracts given to Steve Hutchinson, Kris Dielman and others in the last two years. Alleman didn’t see it coming, but he’s a firm believer in the “right place, right time” theory. “You know, I don’t look at anything as being a coincidence,” he said. “People get what’s coming to them – whether it’s a year form now, a day from now, maybe once they die. But people always get what’s coming to them, and I don’t think that’s any accident. I’ve been through a lot – haven’t been to the four-year school, haven’t had all the accolades. I didn’t even get All-MAC last year. How do you not get All-MAC when you’re a projected first-day player? How does that happen?

“People wonder, ‘What’s wrong with Andy?’ I’m hungry. I’m ready to go. I wouldn’t change a thing about what I’ve had to go through. It not only made me tougher, but gave me the ability to take things on mentally.”

Alleman put that year on the Akron scout team to good use. Going from defensive end to defensive tackle to guard was a short trip from one line to another, but a veritable trip around the world in technique and terminology. “You’re talking about a completely different position,” he said. “On defense, you’re taught, ‘Arch your neck – flat back – shoot your hands – fire off on the ball’. At guard, you have to come to the line, and you will get a pre-snap read from the center, who will declare the mike or quarterback, and then we’ll make a line call based on that. Then, you have a pre-snap (read) and you’ll know who you have to block. But with certain plays, your gap overrides the man, so you’ll have to step to check the B Gap – okay, nobody’s coming, so I go and block the man I was supposed to block, based on the pre-snap read. So, it’s a totally different game.

“As a defensive end, you have B Gap or C gap. There’s no rocket science. Fire off on the ball, squeeze the gap, hold your position. On offense, you have to read and react – but at the same time, you have to be able to tee off on people. You can’t out-think yourself. You have to be able to know the snap count, fire off on the ball, and make it happen. Produce.”

Guard Andy Alleman celebrates after his Akron Zips beat North Carolina State, 20-14, on Saturday, September 9, 2006 (Jeff Harwell, Zips Sports Photography)

Alleman and his Zips ran inside and outside zone at Akron – “We ran a little bit of Draw, a little bit of Power and a little bit of Iso. For the most part, we were a zone blocking team. I can play either man or zone, I’m not worried about that.” He’s also not worried about whether his skills shade him toward particular pro schemes. “I think I’m going to be a better fit for whoever drafts me,” he said. “I’ve only played two years of O-line, and with the proper coaching, I think I can be as good as anyone. Teams are going to draft me, not only based off of the two years they’ve seen me on film and that I’ve played, but they’re going to draft me on potential.

“They’re going to say, ‘this guy’s a former defensive lineman, he’s a great athlete, he looks good on film’…if you look at my first year of film to the second year, there’s a dramatic improvement in technique. Not that I wasn’t doing what I was coached to do, or that I wasn’t trying my first year, but I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. So you have to get that game experience and that’s how you become a better player – practice experience and game experience. The fact of the matter is, whoever drafts me will be drafting me on my potential and that my best years of football are ahead of me, which I agree with.”

As Alleman well knows, there are two aspects to his position. Certain guards are known for their ability to drive-block any opponent into next week, while others focus on technique. The best, like Hutchinson and Alan Faneca, have mastered both, though the former might be more physical and the latter more cerebral. In Alleman’s mind, the only thing holding him back from the ability to combine these divergent aspects at the NFL level is time. “I look at it like this – some guys are labeled as ‘maulers’,” he said. “And when I think of ‘maulers’, I think, ‘no technique, kind of flopping around, not a lot of body control.’ Maybe a bigger guy, just pounding other guys. I take great pride in my technique. I want to look good while I’m pancaking a guy. And at the end of the day, I understand that it comes down to being able to block your man and produce.

”I want to be labeled as a great all-around guard. Whether that (involves) pulling or pancaking, I want to be known as someone who can do whatever is asked of him. That’s why I say, ‘I can block a man scheme or zone scheme.’ Whatever they coach, I’ll be able to do. But I love burying guys. If you look at film … blocking a guy for four, five, six seconds and then scooping him – that’s what I enjoy, because you’re completely dominating someone. You can do it with your hands inside, flat back, running your feet and doing what you’re coached to do.”

Alleman started 24 of 25 games at right guard for Akron. In 2005, the line helped the Zips field a 1,000-yard passer, rusher and receiver in the same season, the 31st team in NCAA history to do so. 2006 saw him take great steps forward, as his ability met his intensity. He set Akron records for the bench press (465 pounds) and squat (595 pounds), which got him named to ESPN’s “Workout Freaks” list. In 2006, Alleman had 55 key blocks/knockdowns, including ten touchdown-resulting blocks. He finished with a 77.4% grade for blocking consistency, according to NFLDraftScout.com.

Those responsible for selecting the Senior Bowl rosters for the 2007 game, however, didn’t see it. Alleman was passed over, yet another snub that burns within him and keeps him fueled for the future. “It’s to the point now where I expect stuff like that to happen,” he said. “I hate to sound cynical, but, I’m hoping that draft day is a day when everything comes full-circle and people say, ‘He’s a first day player.’ I’m hoping that that works out. I’ve heard from numerous teams that they do have me as a second round player. A lot of the time, I don’t want to say I expect that to happen, I’m not a negative person, but I’ve been through enough to realize there’s a lot of politics and a lot of games played. I could say, ‘How come I’m not on that list?’ or ‘How come I’m not in the Senior Bowl?’… Who cares? I don’t care.”

Family Ties

Invited to the 2007 Scouting Combine on the day after Christmas (his father's and brother's birthday) Alleman proved the naysayers wrong. Between his performances in Indianapolis and later at his Pro Day, Alleman ranks at the top in the country in the broad jump, short shuttle and three-cone drill. He was also top five in the vertical leap, the 40-yard dash and the 225-pound bench press reps. He impressed all who saw him and raised his stock considerably. Still, in Alleman’s mind, the best way to rate him is to get to the film room and see him play. “You’re not talking to a guy who doesn’t do well in those events who says they’re over-rated. That’s easy when you’re a slug and you can’t move to you say, ‘That’s overrated’ because that’s not one of your positives. I’m number one in pretty much every category except for bench where I’m fifth as a guard with 30 reps, and I’m no bum with 30 reps. But to me, that’s over-rated. To me, the big thing is on the film.”

What proved to be most remarkable about his Combine performance is that he could focus at all, knowing that his mother had just suffered a stroke. True to his tough nature, Alleman told nobody. “I didn’t want to use it as my crutch,” he said. “I hate to sound cruel because that’s my mother, but like I said, I understand at the end of the day, doing this interview with you is nice, getting your name in the paper is nice and being on these websites is even nicer, but the fact of the matter is if I don’t go out and play football well and do what I’m coached to do, I will not be in the NFL. I understand how crucial this opportunity is for me and I’m not going to blow it so that’s why I’m going to do whatever I have to do to play.”

Fortunately, Alleman’s mother is recovering with the love and help of her family. “It’s really a blessing that she’s come along as she has. She’s getting better, and we’re hoping and praying for a full recovery.”

Alleman’s Numbers

Measurables

40-Yard Dash

10-Yard Dash

20-Yard Dash

20-Yard Shuttle

Three-Cone Drill

Vertical Jump

Bench Press

Combine

5.04

1.76

2.91

4.65

7.8

30 in.

27 reps

Pro Day

DNR

n/a

n/a

4.38

7.43

n/a

30 reps

The mock drafts and website rankings mean about as much to Alleman as the opinions of those who have devalued him for any reason – he has been told by those at the next level that he’s a near-sure first-day pick, and at least one team has him ranked very closely behind Auburn’s Ben Grubbs. That’s what matters. “I look at these websites that say, ‘This guy is great’ or ‘That guy is great.’ A lot of times, they have no idea what they’re talking about. They haven’t seen film, and they’re just pulling names out because it’s like a chain reaction.

“I’m curious and I like it because everybody wants to get their name out and get recognition for whatever they do, but - and I’ve been quoted on this before - I’m concerned with what the scouts are saying, what the offensive line coaches are saying and what the general managers are saying.”

One legitimate expert who ranks him highly is NFLDraftScout.com Senior Analyst Rob Rang. “Alleman is one of the more intriguing players in a uniquely talented and deep guard class,” Rang said. “He was able to get by on his natural athleticism and strength in the Mid-American Conference, but will certainly need to develop technique to be as effective at the NFL level. That said, there is reason for great optimism, as Alleman’s steady play at guard comes after playing the position for such a short period of time. Alleman’s physical tools and the ‘nastiness’ in his play are holdovers from his days on defense. While he may lack the immediate impact ability of some of the higher-ranked guard prospects, if given a year to get himself acclimated, Alleman could prove to be a standout performer early in his career.”

Pro Days

Alleman recently met with the Dallas Cowboys, and is preparing for a visit next week with the New Orleans Saints. More visits are coming before draft day. The Cleveland Browns could very likely be in the mix, as their new offensive assistant, Frank Verducci, helped Alleman get ready for the Combine and NFL workouts. “He’s the former O-line coach for the Bills and the Cowboys,” Alleman said. “My agent (Joe Linta) represents him as well, he does both players and coaches. At the time, Frank was trying to get back into the league as a coach and he was helping us pre-Combine with some offensive line drills and telling us what the coaches will and won’t want to see. He’s a great man and I’m really happy for him.”

Andy Alleman has done all he can to answer the critics. To those who may not see his true potential, he has a simple answer – “Turn on the film.” A Mass Media/Communications major with 15 credits left before graduation, he may turn to a broadcasting career after football. Whatever he does, his focus will be as it always has been – clear, unadulterated and honest.

“All I know is, if you work hard and you’re passionate, you can be successful at whatever it is that you do,” he concluded. You don’t have to be a great athlete to be a great person. My brother wasn’t necessarily an athlete, but he’s a dentist, and how many people can say they’re doctors? Whatever you do, your work ethic and your mentality will override anything that happens to you.”

No man with such deep roots in family, and football, could see life any other way.


Doug Farrar is the Editor-in-Chief of Seahawks.NET, a staff writer for Football Outsiders, and a contributor to FOXSports.com. Feel free to e-mail Doug here.

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