Darren Allen, most recently with the team from 2001-08, is back with the program after six years away, bringing with him a new perspective on the job and a rekindled excitement for Mt. Abram soccer.
“I’ve never stopped coaching,” Allen said. “I always was coaching youth, coaching Premier, travel teams, always helping out with rec. I wasn’t planning on coaching Premier, but the opportunity presented itself for my second son. So we did that.”
He stepped away from the varsity level after some of the most successful years in the Roadrunners history, reaching the Western C final his last year. The plan was to focus his energy on his farm and his family. His assistant, Mark Lopez, took the helm in 2009 and sustained the program until Allen returned this year.
“It’s different. I’ve actually matured in a lot of ways,” Allen said with a laugh. “I have a different philosophy now, a different philosophy of coaching than before. I’m more of a control style and focusing on technical ability than before. I learned a lot from my days coaching youth, different ways to approach and teach. So I was still learning and coaching, just not at the high school.”
Allen also assisted at the college level in two different stints and has learned from a variety of coaches, including Lopez and Mt. Abram girls’ coach Marc Keller. He’s excited to be back and putting what he’s learned to use.
“It gives me a new perspective,” Allen said. “I tend to be more patient. I try not to yell anymore. It just takes way too much energy.”
Though coaching changes always bring transition, the Mt. Abram program has managed to do it seamlessly. When Lopez replaced Allen, he had been the assistant coach. Allen brings some change, but the players know what to expect from him.
“I coached a lot of the younger kids as they came up through,” Allen said. “I was able to because there were no rules violations in place because I wasn’t coaching at the high school. So I coached a lot of these kids in a rec-type atmosphere.”
He brings a new philosophy and formation to the varsity team, but he has kids that should be ready to handle that change. Many of them have been learning parts of this style for years, because of Allen.
“I’ve introduced this to them,” Allen said. “They didn’t know it because it’s been in such a different style. But it’s there. It’s a slow progression.”
Allen wants to use a control style of play and get away from the “boot and scoot” that was the staple of many Mountain Valley Conference teams for years. The possession style of play has slowly evolved in the smaller programs, and Allen has been trying to encourage that style at whatever level he’s coached.
“I’ve been really happy with how things have progressed,” Allen said. “We’re just going out and playing possession drills and its been really good. I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how quick they’ve picked up the concept and how enthusiastic they are.”
Part of the change has also brought the new formation. He’s got the team playing with four players back and not using a sweeper.
“That allows outside backs to get more involved in the offense,” Allen said. “It’s going to take time to develop the kids with the different concepts.”
One thing that has remained constant with Mt. Abram amid the coaching changes has been a consistent level of success. Lopez’s teams continued to win and earn playoff spots while being one of the MVC’s better clubs. Allen sees this team still being able to remain competitive. The Roadrunners have nine seniors back but did lose some key players from last year’s squad.
“It depends on how the senior leadership goes and how well our team concept goes,” Allen said. “We’re big on team concept and there being no superstars on this team. We’ve got 22 kids on varsity and every one of those kids have a role.”
This could be just the beginning of good things for the Mt. Abram program. Allen says that 98 percent of the players from a travel team he has coached will be freshmen at Mt. Abram next year. They’ve been developing as soccer players for years and could make a significant impact on the program’s future.
“We competed over the years with our athleticism with the NYAs and Waynfletes and the St. Dom’s and the Hall-Dales,” Allen said. “We have soccer players coming up. It’s really exciting to see.”
Who to watch this season in high school sports.