NEW CANAAN >> Zach Allen often wreaked havoc on opposing offenses during his career at New Canaan.
It’s what he thrived on.
“Everybody on offense talks about how they have a system, and how everyone on offense tries to be so organized,” said Allen, a defensive end. “To see that kind of crumble, if you play your cards right, is just the most satisfying thing in the world.”
The 6-foot-6, 257-pound Allen, the Register State MVP, was nearly impossible to contain. Most opponents ran away from him.
“He takes that side away,” New Canaan defensive coordinator Chris Silvestri said. “We also have a lot of other guys on our defense who are very good, dynamic players as well. He makes the people around him a lot better because they’re forced to make plays because defenses are not necessarily going to come to his side all the time.”
Allen finished with 102 tackles, 13½ sacks, two interceptions, seven forced fumbles and on fumble recovery while leading the Rams to a second straight state title this season. Allen also played linebacker during some schemes.
“One thing about Zach, he can move,” Silvestri said. “He’s a dynamic pass rusher, and he plays the run equally well. We dropped him off in pass coverages and he broke up passes, he made interceptions; he can be that two-way player. We can put him in that 3-point stance and then tell him to go play a true outside linebacker where’s he’s a pass-read combo. He understands route running, and he does a lot of film study. It’s like having a coach out there. It’s been a privilege to be around him everyday for the past three years.”
Allen becomes the first player since Crosby linebacker Tony Ortiz in 1994 to earn the Register’s top honor for his defensive prowess. Allen is also the first player from New Canaan named MVP since Silvestri in 1993.
Defense has long been Allen’s passion.
“When I first played football in fourth grade, I fell in love with defense,” Allen said. “Coming into high school, with this system, it’s so much fun to play.”
New Canaan runs a high-octane spread offense. Each day during practice, the Rams’ defenders squared off against that potent unit.
“It forces our defense to compete with that,” Silvestri said. “You have to play as a team when you play up-tempo. Defense is very stressed here at New Canaan, equally to our offense.”
Despite losing 28 seniors to graduation, New Canaan was expected to contend for both the FCIAC and Class L-Large titles.
The Rams quickly learned just how competitive they could be in a Week 1 trip to Hand. Hand led 14-12 at the half, but the New Canaan defense pitched a shutout in the second half en route to a 21-14 victory.
“It really clicked probably the second half of the Hand game,” Allen said. “It was the beginning of the year, and we didn’t know what to expect because you’re playing Daniel Hand at their place and it was a very tough environment.
During halftime we just realized that we can do this, we could run away with this. That’s kind of what we did. We shut them down and we did what we had to do.”
New Canaan won its first nine games before losing to Darien 28-21 in overtime on Thanksgiving in the FCIAC championship game.
The Rams rebounded to defeat pesky Wethersfield in the Class L-Large semifinals before earning a rematch against Darien in the championship. New Canaan won 21-20 to capture its second straight title. Allen also helped guide the Rams to the FCIAC title last season.
“It was a great career, we did a lot with it,” Allen said. “We won two state championships and an FCIAC championship. I couldn’t ask for anything more.
“That (winning the state title) was my goal coming into this year. We wanted to kind of cement this class’ legacy. A lot of people doubted us, but we knew we could do it. That was our goal, to win a state championship. Just to do that, and to accomplish your goal, is just a great feeling.”
Allen, who won’t turn 18 until August, will sign a national letter of intent next month to play at Northwestern. Allen hopes to gain about 15 pounds, and said he won’t know of Northwestern’s intentions to redshirt him or not until the end of training camp this summer.
“I’m not going to rush anything,” Allen said. “Just let everything progress the way it should.”