Ski-U-Mah Life is a weekly feature from GopherSports.com that highlights some of the more than 700 Minnesota student-athletes outside of their athletic accomplishments. This week, men's tennis freshman Jackson Allen is featured.
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Big city or small town? Hustle and bustle or quiet and bucolic?
These are some of the factors that high school seniors face every year when making their decision about their next four years.
Freshman Jackson Allen grew up in an athletic family, and when it came time to make his college choice he was getting plenty of advice.
Allen’s mother and father both competed in college, the former, Susan, in tennis at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter and at St. Cloud State. His father, Erik, is a Gustavus Hall of Famer for his career on the hardwood. Plenty of kids grow up with athletic parents, but not all have the same situation as Allen.
That’s because Susan was also his high school coach.
“It was kind of interesting because obviously it’s already different to have a female coaching boys,” Jackson said. “To have it be your mom and you’re on the team and a freshman… it’s kind of an interesting dynamic, but it was pretty cool.”
Cool doesn’t mean easy, though.
“It was actually pretty tough at practices because I felt like I was getting singled out a lot and getting the short end of the stick because my mom was definitely not trying to play favorites at all,” he explained. “So you kind of get discriminated against in a way, so practicing was tough just with the dynamics.”
Head coach Geoff Young wasn’t swayed by the idea of dealing with a prospect’s parent who is also his prep coach.
“They’re just a really nice family,” said Young. “Very easy to talk to, and it was a very easy process. It only made it more exciting for me to get Jackson on the team.”
Susan was an established tennis teaching professional prior to Jackson’s career, but Erik has just as big of a stake in Jackson’s on-court success.
“It’s funny because I feel like my dad is more invested in tennis and the tennis world,” Jackson explained. “He knows what’s going on, more than my mom because my dad obsesses over every little piece of information that’s out there on the internet like all the results. He’s really good at finding tournaments and what to play, when to play and how to affect your ranking… he’s really good with that, it’s kind of obsessive to a point.”
When it came time to choose a college and continue his career, Allen had plenty of experience to draw upon.
“My entire extended family is from Minnesota. My grandpa was in the marching band when the football team went to the Rose Bowl,” Allen said. “I grew up going to all of the Gopher sporting events. We’ve had season tickets to Gopher sporting events since I was, like, five. I went to every basketball and football game for a while.”
But it goes further, and deep into Dinkytown. His great uncle, Joe Smith, shined on the gridiron for the Gophers in 1975, and Allen’s cousin, Sarah McCrady, dived for the Maroon and Gold for four years, wrapping up her Gopher career in 2013.
“I remember I was probably 11, when I went to her senior graduation and grad party and I saw all the ‘M’s and her signing letter,” Allen explained. “I thought that was pretty cool. I wasn’t a big diving fan but I came to a couple of her meets. It looked pretty cool to compete here.”
Since he’s arrived on campus, Allen’s love for the Maroon and Gold has not waned. In fact, he can often be found with his teammates at Gopher sporting events, sometimes having to explain the nuances to several of his seven international colleagues.
“Marino [Alpeza] is a really big volleyball fan. He loves going to all the volleyball games,” Allen said of his Italian teammate. “Since football isn’t really a thing in Europe… I definitely have to convince them to go to the games; they like going to the hockey games and the basketball games but they don’t understand football at all.”
Young couldn’t be happier to have someone on his team who is passionate about Gopher sports.
“That’s awesome. I love it,” he said. “I haven’t had a lot of that because tennis is not as big as hockey, for example, as far as high school sports here. It’s very cool to get someone from Minnesota who’s a big Minnesota fan.”
Allen’s journey to campus started with a voicemail.
“The first day you can get calls from coaches, I remember getting all these calls. I remember going to bed the night before and just wondering who was going to call me,” he explained. “But the only one I cared about and was excited to see if they called was Minnesota. And it happened, so it was pretty cool."
“But all things being equal, I always knew that I wanted to be here,” Allen added.
The message that sealed his fate and a short trek from Shakopee to Minneapolis? Jackson Allen still keeps it on his phone.
“I think I was doing something and I saw a voicemail. I didn’t delete the voicemail. I still have it,” he said. “I don’t really listen to it ever but I just think it’s kind of cool.”
Young is excited about Allen’s athletic potential now that he has him on campus.
“He works very hard, he wants to be good and develop his game,” the head coach said. “It’s very important to him that he leave his mark here and take Gopher tennis to new heights.”
Dan Reisig is an associate director of athletic communications at the University of Minnesota, and a contributing writer to GopherSports.com and Ski-U-Mah Magazine.
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