Antonio Morales (The Athletic) — LOS ANGELES — Pam Allen wouldn’t necessarily use the word religious to describe herself, but she believes in God.
At the peak of an uncertain recruiting process — one in which some programs questioned her son Briton’s size and others pressured him to commit before he was truly ready — that’s whom Pam pointed him toward.
“I told him you want to be in the best place for God to have you,” she said. “I told him, you’ll know this is the right place and always told him to pray about it. God opens up the doors and directs him to where he needs to be. I told him, you’ll get the confirmation, especially if you’re able to get No. 25. He’s worn No. 25 since eighth grade. He even wore it for lacrosse. Of course, I went online, I looked at the (USC) roster from last year and was like there’s no No. 25. … I told Briton, if this is where you need to be, you’ll get No. 25.
“And I’m sorry, what’s his number?”
There was Briton, an early enrollee and a true freshman, last Tuesday on Howard Jones Field as USC opened spring practice, wearing his No. 25 as usual and occasionally running with the Trojans’ first-team defense at cornerback.
“Briton Allen is doing well,” new USC secondary coach Greg Burns said last week. “Obviously, we did pick him up as a safety, but going through winter conditioning he’s shown a lot more athleticism so we’re trying him at corner. So, very pleased to this point. It’s (still early), but pleased.”
Allen’s been slowed the past few practices by hip soreness but he should be available when the Trojans return from spring break and resume practice next week. Greg Johnson, who started several games last season, also returned last Thursday after a quick flirtation with the NCAA’s transfer portal, but USC’s lack of depth and injury concerns in the secondary should make Allen a significant presence this spring.
The head start Allen has received this spring should also give him a leg up on some of the newcomers who’ll arrive on campus this summer.
How exactly did the 18-year-old, who was born in Michigan, spent his early years in Montreal, prepped in Florida and was at one time committed to Georgia Tech, end up in the Trojans’ secondary, and what should the expectations for him be this season?
Pam Allen didn’t have much of a relationship with her mother. She left home at a young age and the two never really saw eye to eye. It wasn’t until Pam was already pregnant with Briton, and her mom, who lived in Michigan, had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer when the two developed a relationship. Pam moved to Michigan to take care of her mother, who wanted to be close to Briton when he was born.
“My mom’s dying. His (Briton’s) father’s not involved in his life. He walked away from it,” Pam said. “So I was going for stress tests four days a week. Doing so, it was suggested I have the baby in Michigan.”
Pam’s mother died before Briton was born, but Pam gave birth to Briton in Michigan. The two eventually moved back to Montreal where Pam introduced Briton to ice skating at 18 months old. She also put him in dance and tae kwon do. Football always remained in the back of her mind, though.
It remained there when the two moved to Orlando, Fla., when Briton was 8 years old. At 9, Briton started working with Speed Plus Sports and coach Boris “Bo Jack” Jackson.
“He was very athletic,” Pam said. “He was in Windermere, so everybody’s like, ‘He’s the fastest kid in Windermere.’ I used to tell him, ‘OK, no disrespect, son, you’re part of that 1 percent.’ … (but) I’m like, ‘I need to take you in the hood. Don’t believe the hype, son, you’re not that fast. … You’re the fastest kid over here.’ But we had to do our research and had to find the hood in Orlando. I got him involved in track and got him involved in AAU. I remember the first time we went there, he was like, ‘Wow, I thought I was fast.’”
The speed work with Jackson, who also taught Briton football fundamentals, and the natural athleticism developed through the other hobbies he was involved with growing up paid off as Briton turned into a standout football player at Lake Highland Prep, where he also played lacrosse.
IMG Academy coach Kevin Wright remembers first seeing Allen when he came to a camp at IMG after his sophomore season.
“He was an athletic kid with a very explosive, big upside,” Wright said. “You could tell he had a lot of raw, natural ability. He thought, I think, about coming to (IMG) at that point and ended up staying at the school he was at. You saw he had raw ability, he had the burst, the speed. Just a lot of things instinctively that he did that you can’t really coach. But at the same time, you saw from a technique standpoint, a fundamental standpoint, he was pretty raw.”
IMG showed interest in Allen and wanted him to come for his junior season. But the allure of being a big fish in a small pond at Lake Highland Prep appealed to him, his mother said. Allen never really left the field for the Highlanders. He was a safety, a receiver and a special teams player and ended up staying for his junior season.
Soon after, the Highlanders experienced a head coaching change, and Allen’s playing style didn’t really mesh well with the new coach’s philosophy toward practice, so after his junior season, he finally transferred to IMG.
“He’s a very physical kid, he comes up and hits you. He’s got a nose for the football,” Wright said. “So you saw all those things and through the season last year, you saw him get better and better and better. He learned early on how important it was to play within a scheme and read your keys, play your technique and not just go out there and play. That’s where I’ve seen his evolution and he’s always one to learn. … At our place, he’s had to compete every single day in practice. Every single day in practice since he’s been here, he’s had to compete against Division I players on both sides of the ball, whether it be in his own position group to get on the field or against wide receivers who are high-level guys. I think that’s really helped put him in a position where it’s obviously next level but I don’t think he’s really intimidated (at USC) because he’s been in a good situation comparative to that.”
Allen was a three-star prospect at IMG. The fact he was surrounded by four- and five-star players made him hungrier, his mom said. A foot injury prevented him from participating in some recruiting camps and, as noted earlier, there were questions about the 6-foot, 185-pound Allen’s size as well.
The recruiting process turned into a stressful one for Allen and his mother at a certain point.
“I think he had a couple different situations early where he thought about early committing, (it) was on the table and he didn’t,” Wright said. “I think one case, another kid committed and they filled up, then a couple SEC schools kind of put him on hold. It was one of those things where you’re like, ‘Golly, this kid, he’s got to catch a break in regards to somebody’s going to be a great fit because he can play.’ … His mother is awesome. His mom is a huge influence in his life. I remember talking to her the last five or six weeks prior to signing day, I said, ‘It’s going to work out. Just see the process all the way through.’”
In late November, Allen finally committed to Georgia Tech. And was on his way for an official visit a week later.
As Allen and his mother prepared to board that flight to Georgia Tech, he got a phone call. Trojans outside linebackers coach Joe DeForest was on the opposite end of the line.
A week later, Allen and his mom were in Los Angeles for an official visit. Despite the constant criticism he receives and the questions about his job security, Pam was pretty upfront when asked what turned the tide in USC’s favor. It was Clay Helton.
She appreciated the hands-on approach Helton took during Briton’s official visit. Instead of seeing the head coach at a Saturday dinner and at the end of the weekend, like on other visits, Helton interacted with her and her family Friday when they got off the bus, that evening, at breakfast, lunch and dinner Saturday and again Sunday.
“I hear a lot of negative stuff regarding coach Helton, but for me, it was him. For Briton, it was him,” Pam said. “I’m a single mom, for all of his life, it’s been the two of us. So I felt this was a man I felt really comfortable with turning my son over to. … Of course, (other coaches), they’re trying to steer him away, ‘Oh, Coach almost lost his job.’ I let them know, well, we’re considering USC. And it’s ‘Oh, you don’t want to go there, he almost lost his job, he might not have a job. Yada, yada, yada.’ I said, ‘You know what, the fact of the matter is, he has a job now.’
“When we met coach Helton, we were like, this is it. … I know my son in terms of what he respects in a person. Because he’s like his mother in what I taught him. When he talked to coach Helton, he felt very comfortable and at ease. I told him don’t listen to these other coaches about their negative opinions because you have to understand, they’re trying to pull you away. Regardless if this man’s going to be here next year or the following year. This is a cruel business, you can’t guarantee those other coaches are going to be there as well.”
On the first day of the early signing period, Allen flipped his commitment from the Yellow Jackets to the Trojans, which leads us to now with Allen likely playing a pretty decent role in USC’s two-deep in the secondary this season.
“I think he’s off to a good start,” Wright said. “I think that last year, we had a kid that reminds me a lot of where Briton’s at right now. He was probably under-recruited, came to camp, ended up coming to our place, then at the time they came, nobody really heard of him. That kid’s name is Andre Cisco, who started as a true freshman at Syracuse, led the nation in interceptions. With that, Andre learned a lot of lessons. He’s going to lose some battles. He’s going to make some mistakes, but ultimately, by the end of the year, you’re going to have a kid that’s a solid player there, a good player and going to have a lot of versatility for the next three years.”