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Transformation Tuesday: Nick Allegretti

Senior offensive lineman has made huge strides to lead one of youngest positions on the Illini

Illinois v Nebraska Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images

There's a rather colloquial adage that was taught to me in my youth that I think is rather fitting for the recruitment of Nick Allegretti: Even sunlight shines on a dog's behind sometimes.

Tim Beckman was a terrible coach at Illinois, but one of the few things he did right in his tenure at Illinois was secure the services of Allegretti out of Lincoln Way East High School in Frankfort, Illinois.

It's not hard to see why, as he earned high praise as a U.S. Army All-American center who needed some offseason strength gains, but stepped on campus as one of the top two or three offensive lineman almost immediately.

Thankfully, Illinois was allowed the opportunity to redshirt Allegretti in 2014 as he needed some refinement (as all freshman o-lineman need, no matter who they play for) and a chance to bulk up and learn the system.

It paid dividends almost instantly, as in 2015 he became one of the stalwarts of the offense and a leader on and off the field, earning what would be one of several Academic All-Big Ten designations and playing in 11 games, including his first start against Kent State in the season opener. He also spent time on special teams and played two games at defensive tackle.

Under the more steady guidance of a legitimate coach in Bill Cubit, Allegretti helped guide Illinois to one of it's best finishes in the last several years in a 5-7, surprisingly competitive season.

In 2016, he started all 12 games, including 11 at center where he replaced the injured Joe Spencer. Lovie Smith is a coach who likes to get off the bus running, so it was huge to have such a critical piece along the offensive front to put such play into practice. It worked fairly well, too, as Illinois found some success running the football with junior running back Kendrick Foster and redshirt-freshman Reggie Corbin. That season boasted a very senior-laden o-line led by Allegretti and senior tackle Christian DiLauro. It was about to get drastically younger the following year.

Unsurprisingly, the team did not have success as they trudged through a 3-9 season in Lovie's debut year. Defensive ineptitude played a large part, but the offense got behind in too many games early, and senior quarterback Wes Lunt, while talented, was ineffectual when put into those come from behind situations.

The next year was a horse of a different color for Illinois football. Where 2016 was an upperclass-led team expected to compete, 2017 was a year to rebuild. On the offensive line, youth was served almost immediately as players like Larry Boyd and Alex Palczewski were thrown into the fire. Who better to tutor them than the best lineman on the team?

That's exactly what Allegretti was last year, as he played largely guard and put on some clinics during Big Ten play on how to play with balance and tenacity, paving the way for several big plays, including highlight runs by Mike Epstein and Dre Brown.

This is a perfect example of the maturation of Allegretti in terms of strength and pad level. Watch #53 bully #91 across from him and open the hole that sprung Epstein for a huge play. Those plays we're a common occurrence for Allegretti and a sign of what's to come in 2018.

Illinois should slowly be getting back to competency this upcoming season, and Nick Allegretti, now a 6-foot-4, 320-pound senior leader at guard, will be a big part of the turnaround.