After the Broncos signed defensive end Zach Allen, learn more about him and his journey to Denver with these five facts:
1. After nearly quitting football in high school, he became Connecticut's Player of the Year
As he hoped to become a professional athlete, Allen originally didn't see much a future in football, as opposed to in basketball or baseball. Playing offensive line didn't feel like much fun and his chances at going pro in football, as a result, seemed slim. So, as he told Boston College’s “The Heights” magazine, he told his coach he wanted to quit.
That coach — Lou Marinelli, winner of 13 Connecticut high-school state championships — pushed back on that.
"He said, 'I don't want you for offensive line, I just want you to play the game and we'll figure it out,'" Allen recalled. "And I ended up playing outside linebacker, loved it, was able to start my sophomore year, and just rolled with it."
On the edge, Allen was dominant for New Canaan High School. In addition to helping the Rams to two state titles, he set the school's sack record and was named Gatorade State Player of the Year in 2014.
He even got a shoutout from All-Pro tight end Jimmy Graham after Allen returned an interception for a touchdown and emulated Graham with a dunk on the crossbar.
2. He was equally dedicated to his academic pursuits
Allen didn't only receive accolades for his feats on the football field.
He was also a member of the National Honor Society and received distinction from the National Football Foundation for his academics, in addition to being an outstanding athlete.
"His dedication to his studies led to one of the nation's highest academic honors for student-athletes," Michael Sullivan wrote. "Allen was one of five football players recognized as a National Football Foundation National High School Scholar-Athlete. He was invited to the New York's famous Waldorf Astoria to receive the honor, alongside four other standout players, including UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen."
At Boston College, Allen received the Cecilia B. and Richard J. Canning Athletic Scholarship and, as a freshman, garnered the Athletic Director's Award for Academic Achievement. He went on to major in finance.
As Sullivan wrote, Allen's parents pushed him in that area, even as a young kid.
"Like most other parents who want their children to be little geniuses, the Allens signed Zach up for chess club in second grade," Sullivan wrote. "The club won a national tournament[.]"
3. He was one of the best defensive linemen in Boston College history
During his collegiate career, Allen was one of the most productive defensive players in Boston College history. He ranks fifth in career tackles for loss and sixth in career sacks.
Allen was named second-team All-ACC in 2018, twice was an academic All-ACC selection and received the 2019 Eagle of the Year award, which is Boston College's highest athletics honor.
As Allen prepared for the draft, ESPN’s Matt Bowen said he was particularly good with his bull-rush and rip move.
"I see a physical player in a 6-foot-4 frame who could make an impact at tackle or end and play in multiple schemes," Bowen wrote. "Allen can hit blockers with the bull rush to drive them back, or he can take a power/rip approach to attack an edge. He is a strong pass-rusher who is advanced in his hand usage as a rusher."
Follow new Broncos defensive end Zach Allen from his college days at Boston College to starting his NFL career with the Arizona Cardinals.
4. He was a third-round pick by the Cardinals
In 2019, the Cardinals selected him in the third round of the draft. Though Allen lasted until the draft's second day, the Cardinals had him graded as a first-round talent, Arizona’s general manager said in its all-access show.
His rookie season was cut short because of a neck injury, but he appeared in 41 games over the past three seasons, starting 34 games. In that span, Allen has steadily progressed as a pro. He annually improved his sack, quarterback-hit and passes-defensed totals. In 2022, he recorded 47 tackles, 20 quarterback hits, 10 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks and eight passes defensed.
5. J.J. Watt took him under his wing in Arizona
After joining the Cardinals in 2021, J.J. Watt became Arizona's elder statesman in the defensive line room. For young, developing players like Allen, Watt's impact was huge.
"It's kind of like you always think you're doing enough and then you see what he's doing," Allen told ESPN’s Josh Weinfuss. "... You're like, 'OK, J.J. Watt's doing it, I'm doing it. I gotta be doing the right thing.'"
According to the defensive line coach, Allen sat next to Watt in their position group's meeting room. In constant search of how to be a better player, Allen would pepper Watt with questions.
"It's one of those relationships where you're happy because you know he just wants to get better," Allen told Weinfuss. "... Sometimes, I just [say] 'Zach, I just gotta breathe for like five seconds.' But, it's awesome."