Of the thousands of athletes who play college football, only a small number are able to make it to the NFL.
Former Ohio State and current Pittsburgh Steelers safety Will Allen has been fortunate enough to be one of the few to enjoy a long professional career, but that hasn’t stopped him from seeking out the next step of his journey.
Allen, who played at OSU from 2000-2003, decided to spend part of his offseason interning at 120 Sports, a digital sports network based in Chicago that provides live and on-demand sports analysis and highlights.
As part of his internship program Allen was responsible for producing a feature news segment, which he used to cover the mindset of professional football players who retire early. He said the idea came from his desire to spread his personal knowledge of the game that outsiders have difficulty understanding.
“It’s a difficult decision to leave, to walk away from the game, and then also you get spectators and fans in public who are questioning why you left $20 million on the table, like ‘how could you do that?’” Allen said in an interview with The Lantern. “It may seem easy to say that, but these people never played football before at a professional level, they don’t know what it means, so for them to pass judgment and point fingers, they should have a different perspective.
“But also, the football player, the athlete should talk about the perspective, so people can understand from a better level.”
Allen said the idea of broadcasting appealed to him because he’s able to work with a group of people to produce stories showing different angles of sharing the news.
“I’ve definitely thought about (getting into broadcasting),” Allen said. “That’s why I’m here on the internship, to see what route I want to go once I’m done playing.”
The 33-year-old was a first-team All-America selection in his senior year at OSU before being selected in the fourth round of the 2003 NFL draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. After six seasons and two Pro Bowl appearances with Tampa, he signed with the Steelers, where he made a third Pro Bowl in 2010. He later played for the Dallas Cowboys for one season in 2013 before heading back to Pittsburgh.
His most notable moment at OSU came in the 2002 edition of The Game, when he intercepted Michigan quarterback John Navarre at the goal line as time ran out to preserve a 14-9 victory and a trip to the national championship, which the Buckeyes subsequently won.
Allen said the main goal of his internship, as well as one he had last year with Boston-based energy company National Grid, is to learn how to make adjustments of working on a team in a corporate setting instead of a football setting.
“It is worthwhile because you’re challenging yourself, stepping outside your comfort zone, and you’re meeting people, building relationships,” Allen said.
“This is an exploration for me to get my feet wet and do something different from what I’ve been doing since I was 8 years old.”
120 Sports partnered with the NFL Players’ Association to open the program to five current players this summer, said Sarah Callahan, marketing manager for 120 Sports. She said the interns get a choice of three tracks to work on: on-air analysis, overall production and Allen’s track of content creation.
“The overall objective of the program is to give NFL players insights and experience on what it takes to work at a media company–specifically in this case a mobile-first, all-sports network,” Callahan said in an email.
In addition to his focus on his current and potential future careers, Allen has run the Will Allen Foundation since 2008.
The foundation’s main program is the Quest for Real Life Success program, which provides free tools and resources for underprivileged youth to learn real-life practices such as finances, time management, preparing for college and exams and applying for jobs.
“We just try to prepare the kids in the best way possible to achieve everything they want but also to have tools and resources to make better decisions in their lives,” Allen said.
The foundation runs out of Pittsburgh as well as Allen’s hometown of Dayton, Ohio.
The WAF also partners with other organizations to provide services for youth, such as partnering with local Boys and Girls Clubs to purchase holiday gifts for impoverished families.
“It’s all about instilling hope and positivity and really meeting the needs of people and meeting them where they are to try to better themselves and hopefully perpetuate in their communities.”
Despite playing in Columbus over a decade ago, Allen said OSU is still very dear to him — something perpetuated by the number of fellow Buckeyes joining him on the Steelers defense. Defensive end Cameron Heyward, linebacker Ryan Shazier and rookie cornerback Doran Grant all spent time in the scarlet and gray, which Allen said gives the group a special bond.
“We’re all Buckeyes, and anything I can do to help out Buckeyes I will. That’s kind of how the door was open for me, and I just have to reciprocate that,” Allen said. “So I’m definitely helping out those guys, and helping them to be professional on and off the field, trying to help them to make the best decisions on and off the field.”
Allen said that while he believes young players should be primarily focused on improving themselves on the field, there is a time when every player should start looking at life after football, and that time came for him as he entered the twilight years of his career.
“I’ve always thought about (my post-NFL career). It was a matter of actually taking the step is another thing,” Allen said. “You can think all you want, but until you put action to it, that’s when it becomes a reality. I’ve probably put some action into it the last couple of years — networking more, getting out and actually spending a week, or three weeks here, with a business or places of interest.”