Tony Broering decided it was time to get the new guy the ball.
In Northmont High’s first game of the season, Markus Allen didn’t get many touches. That was understandable: Allen had transferred in only a few months ago, and quarterback Keaton Kesling felt more comfortable with other targets, like Justin Golson — who had broken Northmont’s single-season record for receiving touchdowns just a year ago.
But as the Thunderbolts prepared to take on Fairmont last September, Broering and the coaching staff looked at the 6-foot-2 junior with the bulldog work ethic and the ability to catch anything in his zip code and realized they needed to find out exactly what they had in him.
Forty-eight minutes later, they knew.
“He just destroyed them,” Broering told Maize n Brew. “It was like, wow. We really got something here with Markus and Justin.”
Fairmont predicated its coverage on stopping Golson, leaving the softer coverage for Allen. Kesling read the coverage pre-snap and took what he had. Allen did the rest. He snagged a five-yard toss and turned it into a 78-yard catch-and-run touchdown, and found the end zone on a 42-yard pass to cap a 28-14 win and a four-catch, 171-yard, two-touchdown breakout night.
That was the final time Allen saw such soft coverage last season. Northmont’s conference opponents, unlike Fairmont, had film on Allen and were familiar with the Thunderbolts’ scheme. They knew they needed to double or triple-team him. They still couldn’t stop him.
By the time the season was over, Allen had caught 51 passes for 1,099 yards and 15 touchdowns. Golson’s record was no more. And Allen was squarely on the high-major radar. Rated as a three-star prospect by every major service — and with the potential to climb — Allen received offers from over 30 schools before committing to Michigan last Tuesday.
At the time of this piece, the three-star recruit is rated as the nation’s No. 494-ranked player (83rd at his position) per the 247Sports Composite. Campaigns like that are why he could continue to rise.
It’s safe to say Broering didn’t see that coming all in one year. He was friends with plenty of coaches at Xenia, Allen’s old school, but he didn’t know all that much about Allen himself. The schools never played — Xenia is in a smaller division, while Northmont plays in Ohio’s largest classification — and Allen didn’t have many receiving opportunities in Xenia’s triple-option offense.
But when Broering heard that Allen was transferring, he called up the Xenia coaches and heard “rave reviews.” He got to prove them for himself last June: the first summer workouts were long, hot, and involved running, running and more running. And Allen kept asking Broering to stay. He couldn’t get enough.
“His work ethic is infectious to others,” Broering said. “Here’s this new kid, and he says after two and a half hours working out, ‘Hey, Coach, can you stay with me and work on this?’ And the other kids will look and say, ‘Hey, can I stay?’ ... He quickly established himself with the players and coaching staff.”
That mentality extends beyond the gridiron. Broering described Allen as a great student; someone on track to graduate high school in December and enroll early at Michigan. He also remembers meeting Allen’s mother last summer — not a word was spoken about football. All Allen’s mother wanted to know about was the quality of a Northmont education.
If you watch film of Allen’s junior season, you’ll see a lot of deep verticals and end-zone fade routes. Those play to Allen’s biggest strength: simply going up and winning midair battles for the ball. Broering told Kesling throughout the season: just throw it up there, it doesn’t have to be perfect, Allen will catch it. That’s how Allen ended up breaking Golson’s record — he quickly became the Thunderbolts’ go-to red zone option.
And Allen is still conscious of areas in which he can improve. Broering coaches him in track, and this spring, the two had been working “diligently” on speed development, first steps and coming in and out of breaks. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Broering can’t coach him in person anymore, but Allen hasn’t stopped — he’s still logging workouts and training with teammates. As if he would be doing anything else.
“Before we went on break, the way he was working out with me, you would have thought he had never started for us and he was trying to win a spot,” Broering said. “That’s how hard he was working. His work ethic, his inner drive to be great is the thing that I think’s gonna be the determining factor when he gets up to a place like Michigan.”