As soon as the name Willie Allen was mentioned, ESPN national recruiting director Craig Haubert knew the question.
“I get asked about Willie Allen a lot,” he said.
The reason? The evaluation of Allen, a massive offensive tackle committed to LSU, might be the most polarizing among national recruiting experts.
ESPN has Allen ranked as No. 16 overall, but he does not appear in the Rivals 250 or the 247Sports’ Top247. He is listed at No. 184 in the Scout 300. That puts him at No. 146 in the USA TODAY Sports’ Composite rankings and the No. 15 offensive tackle.
Allen from John Curtis Christian in River Ridge, La., will sign his letter of intent Wednesday on National Signing Day.
“He comes from a really successful program, but it’s an offensive system where they run the ball,” Haubert said. “He’s a big kid but has an undeveloped body. He’s got a lot of room to grow physically and has everything you would want in a tackle but lacks experience.
“I don’t see an ideal situation where he can play right away, but in three or four years, he will have everything you want in an elite college tackle.”
What Allen has right now is a body that’s 6-7 and 300 pounds, and perhaps, more importantly, a great attitude.
“I really don’t pay attention to rankings or anything,” he said. “I love to learn every day. I don’t think I know everything, I just want to get better.”
Allen also was strongly considering TCU and had offers from more than 30 programs.
ESPN dropped Allen from five-star status to four in its final rankings after he struggled at the Under Armour All-America Game. Rivals dropped him from a four-star prospect to three in its evaluation.
“Willie Allen has a chance with the right coaching in four years to play in the NFL, but there’s also a high, high bust factor,” Rivals national recruiting director Mike Farrell said. “He was beaten regularly and throughout the week and during the game by defensive ends on his own team and the other team with the same move.
“I can see why someone would see him ranked that high based on ceiling. You can’t teach size and length, but you can teach a lot of other things. He just never got better where we expected him to and that’s not a shot at the kid. We’ll be the first person to write we blew that one if he becomes an All-American.”
What Haubert sees is a player whose deficiencies are all correctable.
“You can fix where he struggles,” he said. “Guys that have things that are more difficult to fix are the ones to worry about even if they have ideal measureables.”
Said Scott Kennedy, the managing editor at Scout.com, “He’ll get there, but he’s not ready yet.”
Like most recruits, Allen wants to play right away. LSU lost senior right tackle Vadal Alexander and junior left tackle Jerald Hawkins, who declared for the NFL draft.
“If I have to redshirt, I’ll redshirt,” Allen said after announcing his commitment to LSU. “I just want to get there and compete. Nothing is going to be given to me. … The recruiting process is over now. Stars don’t mean anything. You have to go in and work hard.”
A gentle giant off the field, the New Orleans native almost quit football after Hurricane Katrina. Struggling to get to class and practice on time because of his long commute to school, one of his coaches, Jerry Godfrey, asked Allen if he’d like to move in with is family, and he accepted.
Allen has plans for football success, but also has his eyes beyond the game.
“I’m trying to use football as a platform to get a free education while doing what I love,” he said. “My dreams outside of football include majoring in criminal justice, owning bakeries, and becoming an entrepreneur.”
Contributing: Adam Woodard, USA TODAY High School Sports