New Canaan football coach Lou Marinelli had been hinting during the winter that he expected Zach Allen, his highly recruited star linebacker, to announce sometime soon that he would be headed to Boston College.
Even Allen, a 6-6, 243-pound junior, admitted he was leaning in that direction.
Until he visited Northwestern last weekend.
“My dad and I went and we didn’t know what to expect,” Allen said. “I fell in love with the coaches, the players, everything. The combination of athletics and academics is second to none. It is hard to turn it down.”
So Allen didn’t, giving a verbal commitment to Northwestern Monday night and disclosing his decision on his Facebook page late Tuesday afternoon.
“I woke up this morning and I couldn’t believe what had happened,” Allen said. “Did I really commit?”
Thus ended the pursuits of one of the most talented and coveted players in the history of a New Canaan program that has won seven league and 19 state championships, including both this past season.
Allen, soft-spoken and reputed for his humility, is the true-embodiment of the term student-athlete. He has a 4.0 grade point average and had offers from 15 schools, ranging from programs like Syracuse, Virginia and Pittsburgh to four Ivy League schools: Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Cornell.
Allen, who hoped to make a decision prior to his senior year at New Canaan, said Boston College was an early frontrunner.
“It was a very tough decision between the two,” Allen said. “They are very similar. It came down to where I was the most comfortable.”
Marinelli, who is vacationing in Florida, said Allen’s choice was unexpected.
“I basically told (the BC) coaches that I’d be very surprised if he didn’t go there,” Marinelli said. “After taking other visitis I think he found his comfort zone at Northwestern. That’s where he wants to be. It’s a tremendous fit with his academic background. He’s a terrific student and terrific player.”
Allen was a member of what was considered by most to be the state’s best defensive unit. In 15 games he led the Rams in sacks (11.5), tackles for losses (7.5) and was third on the team with 81 tackles, behind the two other linebackers, Michael Root and Cole Harris.
Northwestern, which is coached by Pat Fitzgerald, won its first four games last season before going on a seven-game losing streak and finishing 5-7.
“I was going through all my options, all the offers, and it was hard to compare any other school to Northwestern,” Allen said. “I’m very happy with my decision.”
Allen will be counted upon next fall to anchor a New Canaan defense that will be losing almost all of its starters.
“He’s young,” Marinelli said. “He’s just 16 now and will be 17 when he graduates. And he’s already done a lot of good things. He’s got a lot of great football ahead of him. What a great opportunity.”