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Small Wonder

Division III Trinity College has nation's longest win streak at 31. If it doesn't rank with USC's run, at least one player won't sweat it.

September 30, 2006|Chris Dufresne | Times Staff Writer

HARTFORD, Conn. — Meet young Matt Allen, America's winning-streak crasher.

He won his last 31 high school games as a member of Oaks Christian in Westlake Village -- recording eight solo tackles in last year's Southern Section Division XI title game -- and was in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 4 when Texas halted USC's march at 34.

USC's setback sent the streak down the laundry chute to Trinity, a small liberal arts college that started playing football in 1877.

Allen was so excited that USC came up short, he bought a long-sleeved Texas sweatshirt.

No wonder.

Allen is sitting in his head coach's office as he tells this story over the noise of squash balls being whacked into adjacent walls.

Allen is now a freshman linebacker ... at Trinity, which recorded its 31st consecutive victory last week against Colby and takes "The Streak" on the road today to rival Williams College.

"I wouldn't know how to deal with it," Allen jokes about the prospect of losing.

Allen remembers distinctly the day he received his first recruiting letter from Trinity.

"Dad, throw it away," Allen says he told his father.

Jimmy Clausen, Allen's teammate at Oaks Christian, has committed to Notre Dame. Tailback Marc Tyler, son of Wendell, is headed to USC.

Even Bill Redell, Allen's high school coach, questioned Allen's application decision.

Allen was not a major-college prospect, but what was wrong with UC Davis?

"He kept saying, 'Are you sure?' " Allen says. "He didn't want to let it go. I said, 'Trust me, I've found this school.' I like the feeling I get when I'm here. I knew this was kind of like the place for me. And it's good football."

That's if you consider good one losing season since 1979 and a 502-337-42 record since the presidency of Ulysses S. Grant.

It would be a tough adjustment, though, going from a machine-like high school program to a think tank.

Trinity is everything you'd expect at Division III -- and less. Schools in the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) are limited to eight games a season and are not allowed to compete in the NCAA Division III playoffs.

At Miami, winning eight games probably gets Larry Coker fired.

At Trinity, it caps a fourth consecutive perfect season.

"At first I was like, you play eight games?" Allen says. "That's almost half of what I played in high school. But the more I looked at it the more I sort of like it."

Allen's coach is 35-year-old Jeff Devanney, in his first year after taking over for Chuck Priore, who got a nice pay bump to become coach at Stony Brook.

Devanney's background is defense, but Allen's defensive coordinator in high school was Clay Matthews, a 19-year NFL veteran.

And you want me, Coach Devanney, to shed a blocker how ... ?

"I've got to pick up what they want me to do," Allen says. "I can't still be holding on."

And how many kids go to college to escape the pressures of high school football?

"The training, the time you put in, it's just so much," he said of Oaks Christian. "I also wanted to have kind of a life outside football. And I can really do it here, with the short schedule."

"The Streak" is important at Trinity, but so is context.

"We're 1-0, we have a one-game winning streak," Devanney says.

Football can't even claim the longest winning streak on campus. That distinction belongs to men's squash, which has won an NCAA-record 144 consecutive matches.

Football is important -- from 9 a.m. until about 5.

Devanney and his staff attack game week the way a lot of coaches do.

Devanney says "frickin' " a lot as he directs his laser pointer to the chalkboard and barks out possible formations -- Shark, Doom, Nest, Jokers.

Williams and Trinity first played each other in 1884. Williams is the last to defeat Trinity, in the second game of 2002. Last year, Trinity led Williams 34-0 at halftime in a blowout.

"I'm sure they're excited about the chance to get back at us," Devanney says.

An assistant interrupts the Wednesday morning meeting to address the pregame meal for the two-hour bus trip to Williams.

"Ninety sandwiches?" Devanney responds, "That ought to be enough. And they're going to throw in the chips too? Awesome."

Football is important.

"If I go 2-6, I'll quit," Devanney says. "You won't need to fire me."

He also says, "I would lose my job quicker if my kids started being jerks on campus than if we lose a football game."

A former Trinity player, Devanney doesn't pine for prime time. He once spent a year on George O'Leary's staff at Georgia Tech, learned a lot, but had a craving to get back home.

Back to a lyrical land of no scholarships, no off-campus visits to recruits, no fending off agents and dinner after practice with his wife and two daughters.

Meanwhile, elsewhere ...

"The University of Oklahoma president goes berserk because the officials made a bad call" in the Oklahoma-Oregon game, Devanney says. "College presidents shouldn't be worried about that. That's ridiculous."

Football is important here -- but different.

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