"Part of Something Great"

Why NFL linebacker Brian Allen returned home to coach Columbia High School Football

Before he was a National Champion at Florida State and made a Super Bowl appearance with the Carolina Panthers, Brian Allen made a splash with his precocious physical and mental toughness as a state-champion linebacker for Columbia High School Football in Lake City, Florida.

In 2011, Allen reconnected with his hometown roots, rejoining Columbia Football as head coach. Here’s how his NFL journey influenced his coaching philosophy and inspired him to give back to the community that taught him what it meant to have "the attitude of a lion."

“On a Friday night, this town shut down completely,” said Brian Allen, reminiscing on the days when Friday night football meant businesses closed early, allowing for the Columbia High School marching band to take to his hometown’s main street.

For the residents of Lake City, Florida, a blue-collar community 60 miles west of Jacksonville, football is more than a sport – it's the “life of the community.”

Allen is in no small part a product of this football hysteria; the former Columbia linebacker went on to win a national championship at Florida State before a four-year NFL career. Allen made his grand return to the Tiger football field in 2011 – this time as head coach. He’s been “Coach Allen” ever since.

From Friday Night Lights to Super Bowl Sunday

Along with a permanent passion for football, Lake City natives inherit a strong work ethic from an early age. 

“This community has a culture of blue-collar workers, guys that were hands-on,” Allen explained. “At the end of the day, you’re going back home with your shirt a little bit dirty from whatever the labor of the day was.” 

Allen says his upbringing in Lake City was oriented towards hard work.

“Our summer workouts were in the fields,” Allen said, reflecting on his summer football practices for Columbia. “Kids had summer jobs picking tobacco. Kids had summer jobs working in watermelon fields – laborers, per se, during that time.” 

Raised on a passion for football and a culture of hard work, Allen was primed for success on and off the field. Despite his commitment to the game, Allen was able to balance football with other responsibilities, like school. 

“When you have a passion for something, I think that drives your success in other areas, like academics,” Allen explained. “Your pursuit of that passion is only going to take you places if you make sure those areas are done well.” 

Allen found success in just about every area he touched. An honor roll student, Allen was a key component of his team’s state championship title and, as an undefeated weightlifting champ, earned himself the title of “strongest kid in Florida.”

As a small-town kid, his early triumphs were valuable lessons to him: “these successes start to change your way of thinking and your thought processes in your belief system and yourself.”

Through his victories, Allen began to recognize the important role his mentality played in his success. He relied on the power of positive thinking and perseverance to help realize even his most ambitious goals.

“It’s the thought process of ‘I can be a state champion,’ or ‘I push myself that much harder in the weight room because of the way I was thinking all day,’” Allen explained.

From his ambition and perseverance – and the success that followed – Allen established a “mentality of strength and physicality,” a tool which he says would help him continue to excel in his football career after high school. 

Despite his early success, the NFL alumnus said professional football was never his goal in high school. Growing up in a blue-collar community, Allen says football was his golden ticket into college. 

“I wanted to have the ability to use football to be able to go to college, to further my education,” Allen explained. 

However, the recruitment process would throw Allen some unexpected curveballs.

Less than an hour from Gainesville, home of the University of Florida Gators, Lake City is practically painted orange and blue. 

“As a high school kid in Lake City, you go to Gainesville to go the mall, to the movies,” Allen said. “You're in that town all the time.”

Feeling like he had the hometown advantage, Allen expected to hear something from the Gators. Despite their neighborly relationship, University of Florida never showed interest in Allen.

After a series of offers (including from Virginia Tech), he finally settled on the Gators’ in-state archnemeses: the Florida State Seminoles.

Allen would soon find out there were more hoops to jump through – as a redshirt freshman, it took him a full year to even play a live down.

“Getting there and redshirting freshman year was kind of a low point because I had a ton of success in high school,” Allen noted.

But in leaving small town Lake City for Tallahassee, Allen felt he had “something to prove,” at Florida State. 

“We always wanted to show that we we’re better than someone coming from somewhere else,” Allen said, alluding to his blue-collar background.

Allen looked to his hometown’s “competitive spirit” for inspiration, and by his sophomore year, he was back on the field. In his junior year, Allen finished second on the team in total tackles (and could bench press over 450 pounds), as the Seminoles trampled Virginia Tech en route to the school’s second-ever National Championship.

As a senior, Allen tied for first in tackles with 102 and captained his squad to another national title game (though this time the Seminoles lost to Oklahoma).

After graduating from Florida State with a degree in social sciences, Allen was drafted in the third round of the 2001 NFL draft (83rd overall) by the St. Louis Rams.

Allen credits his success during this period to the mindset he developed in high school.

“From what took place, I know there’s a truth to that thought process. You've got to think the way you want to, you want to be number one,” Allen explained. “I think that helped me to become one of the top six linebackers in the world and get drafted to St. Louis.”

After a year with the Rams, Allen went on to play for the Carolina Panthers from 2002-2004, appearing in Super Bowl 38 against the New England Patriots. In 2005, he played sporadically for Washington but was forced into early retirement due to a knee injury.

Although his NFL career ended prematurely, Allen had unfinished business with the sport.

“I needed to get back into football,” Allen explained. “Coaching has allowed me to live out the same dreams and goals I set for myself at a young age.”

After retirement from the NFL, Allen found work as an American History teacher and football coach at a high school in Orlando, but it didn’t feel quite like home.

It wasn’t until 2011 that he found his way back to the Columbia Tigers – this time as head football coach.

The retired pro revealed that returning to Lake City had been his “dream” all along:

“It transitioned and transformed my way of thinking early on in life,” Allen said of his high school football career. “My goal has always been to make it back to Lake City and have that impact on the youth.”

Coming Full Circle

After years in the trenches pursuing a career in football as a player, Allen has collected countless pieces of valuable advice for his own coaching “toolbox.” Of all the tools he’s picked up along the way, his favorites usually involve mental toughness, a quality he now aims to impart to his student athletes as head coach.  

“The thing that I’m doing daily is trying to give these guys tools to transform their way of thinking,” Allen said.

Even beyond technique or physical fitness, Allen teaches his players that a strong mentality is the single most important attribute they can bring to the football field. In doing so, he urges his Tigers to draw inspiration from the other “king of the jungle.”

“You think about a lion being the king of the jungle,” Allen ventured. “He isn't the biggest creature out there. He's not the smartest one. He's not the tallest one. He's not the heaviest one.

“Why does that animal make everything else respect him?” He continued. “It’s because of his attitude.”

The Columbia student athletes learn to not limit their ambitions due to weaknesses they perceive in themselves. Allen expects them to rise above their inhibitions, embrace opportunities to challenge themselves, and attack their goals.

“That's the thing that I'm trying to instill in the kids now,” Allen said. “It doesn't matter if you're not the smartest or the tallest kid in here. You can be a leader.”

Allen revealed these lessons were inspired in part by his former coach at Florida State, College Football Hall of Famer Bobby Bowden, who aimed to connect experiences on the field to greater life lessons. 

Taking coaching cues from Bowden, Allen is confident his lessons on mental toughness will encourage in his players their “growth into manhood."

Since 2011, Allen has served as head coach at Columbia High School and led his players with these principles. It appears to have paid off; Allen boasts a 73-23 coaching record with the Class 7A Tigers. 

Over eight seasons, Allen has seen 42 of his student athletes earn scholarships to play collegiately. A handful of those athletes have since moved on to the NFL, including defensive lineman Timmy Jernigan of the Philadelphia Eagles, safety Trey Marshall of the Denver Broncos, and offensive lineman Laremy Tunsil, who was notably selected in the first round (13th overall) of the 2016 NFL draft by the Miami Dolphins.


Allen revealed these lessons were inspired in part by his former coach at Florida State, College Football Hall of Famer Bobby Bowden, who aimed to connect experiences on the field to greater life lessons. 

Taking coaching cues from Bowden, Allen is confident his lessons on mental toughness will encourage in his players their “growth into manhood."

Since 2011, Allen has served as head coach at Columbia High School and led his players with these principles. It appears to have paid off; Allen boasts a 73-23 coaching record with the Class 7A Tigers. 

Over eight seasons, Allen has seen 42 of his student athletes earn scholarships to play collegiately. A handful of those athletes have since moved on to the NFL, including defensive lineman Timmy Jernigan of the Philadelphia Eagles, safety Trey Marshall of the Denver Broncos, and offensive lineman Laremy Tunsil, who was notably selected in the first round (13th overall) of the 2016 NFL draft by the Miami Dolphins.

“You always hear, ‘the game is 95% mental, 5% physical.’ The larger side is the mental side of it,” Allen said. “And here is where I feel like I’ve been for 8 seasons with my guys.”

Even with dedicated players, a football team cannot excel without proper funding. That’s why Allen turned to crowdfunding platform Snap! Raise to raise money for his program’s 2018 season. 

With the help of Snap! Raise campaign director Jayce Barber (who in his high school days played quarterback for Allen), the Columbia football team raised over $17,000, exceeding their fundraising goal of $8,000.

“This is the easiest fundraiser that you will ever do, and you need to try it,” Allen urged his fellow coaches.

After running with Snap! Raise, Allen realized they used to settle for second rate with their old football fundraisers. 

“We had some generic thing that we did. We’d make our amount of money we made every year,” Allen reflected. “But Snap! Raise is one that I can attest to. It was so easy and we made 18 grand.”

With the funds from their Snap campaign, Allen and his coaching staff were able to upgrade equipment, cover team travel costs, and assist seniors in college recruiting.

Most importantly, Columbia Football has been able to secure the resources it needs to maintain an ambitious, hard-working team culture consistent with the program’s rich history and tradition. 

“This group of kids you can push more, get a little more out of them because they're a little bit more oriented towards hard work,” Allen said. “When you give them that on this football team, I think it’s one of the biggest reasons for our success.”

That’s why Allen works to empower his players to succeed not only on the football field, but in any challenge they face. 

“Football players, when they leave Columbia High School, they know they were part of something great,” Allen said. 

“They have opportunities to achieve anything they want in life outside of football.”

With the attitude of a lion, Brian Allen is a testament to that truth.

Coach Allen uses Snap! Raise to secure the financial resources his program needs to achieve more. See how football programs have raised over $35 million with the Snap! Raise platform.

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