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How my father prepared me for life and the NFL

EDITOR'S NOTE: Washington Football Team defensive tackle Jonathan Allen has been a key piece of the defensive line since being drafted 17th overall in 2017. But before he got there, he learned a lot from his father, who served as a role model for Allen while serving in the military. Below, Allen shares four key lessons.

For more on Allen's upbringing and relationship with his father, watch the next episode of NFL Network's NFL 360, which airs at 8 p.m. ET on Tuesday, Nov. 16.

Everyone has their own definition of what it means to be a hero. To me, it's a person who is honest, works hard and is selfless. It's also someone who consistently lives life by the book, making the ordinary, unremarkable parts of life extraordinary to those who pay attention.

My definition of a hero describes my father, Richard Allen II. We went through a lot of challenges when I was young, and he never wavered -- he was always there for my brother, Richard Allen III, and me. My father was and still is my idol and hero.

Looking back on my youth -- which included time living in foster care, and which allowed for me to discover who I was, under my father's guidance -- there are four major ways he prepared me for life and the NFL:

1) He helped me learn my worth.

My childhood wasn't easy. We lived with my mother, who battled many of her own demons when it came to her mental health, here in the United States while my father was deployed in the Republic of South Korea as a nuclear biological chemical warfare specialist in the U.S. Army. My brother and I were taken away from our mother by child protective services and were put into the foster care system for 10 months when I was about 8 or 9 years old. Those 10 months were some of the darkest times of my life, but there was a way out. My father did absolutely everything in his power to get custody of us, making the time in his busy work schedule as part of the military to always be present in court. After more than a year of the custody battle, he won. We won.

That entire process showed me I was worth fighting for. That's an extremely hard thing to understand and realize as a kid, but my father's determination to always be present, along with the fact that he never gave up on us, showed me as much.

That experience is why my wife, Hannah, and I chose to get involved with Sasha Bruce Youthwork, a homeless shelter that helps young people in the Washington, D.C., area find safe homes, achieve and maintain good physical and mental health, create and strengthen supportive and stable families, and explore opportunities in education and careers. We not only wanted to give money and resources; we also wanted to give time. Because at the end of the day, kids who are going through trauma need to know -- and should know -- people are in their corner.

That entire process showed me I was worth fighting for. That's an extremely hard thing to understand and realize as a kid, but my father's determination to always be present, along with the fact that he never gave up on us, showed me as much.

2) He taught me humility and sacrifice

As mentioned above, my dad was constantly travelling for work, during the custody battle and after. When we lived in Chesapeake, Virginia, when I was about 14 or 15, he would make the 200-mile drive up to Washington during the work week and drive back for the weekends. He was always on the go, but he always put the family first and never complained. His humble approach affected me in such a positive way and demonstrated the importance of leading by example on the field and off.

3) He taught me the most important value: discipline

As a nuclear biological chemical specialist in the U.S. Army, my father's military values are a big part of who he is. In turn, they shaped me into who I am today -- which is why the NFL's Salute to Service initiative hits so close to home. Everything in life had discipline attached to it. My brother and I had to get good grades before we could play football or participate in other activities. Making my bed every morning, doing weekly chores, like mowing the grass every Wednesday and cleaning the house every Saturday -- completing those tasks and staying on a schedule taught me how to finish what I started, no matter how big or small it was.

There's this quote he used to always say: "What you do in the dark is gonna come to light eventually." It reflected the disciplined lifestyle he wanted to teach me, that one should never take the easy way out. I didn't realize it when I was younger, but every great influence in my life -- including my brother and football coaches at every level -- has echoed that same message.

4) He taught me a relentless work ethic

I vividly remember my dad asking me regarding football, "Do you wanna play for fun, or do you wanna be the best you can be?" I knew what I had to say, so I told him yes, I wanted to be the best.

In hindsight, I'm glad I did. But doing all of the extra things -- running before or after practice, doing push-ups and sit-ups every night before going to bed -- was tough. I recall mowing one strip of the grass, then running around the block, which was about 400 meters, and I would repeat that pattern until the entire lawn was mowed. At the time, I thought he was just being mean, but he wanted me to be in the best possible shape, because I played offense, defense and special teams in high school. I never left the field, and being in great shape helped me to stay healthy.

Going the literal "extra mile" definitely separated me from the rest of the pack and helped me achieve my goals of playing football at Alabama and in the NFL. Seeing the value and benefit of the hard work paid off -- and it continues to in my fifth season in the league.

Follow Jonathan Allen on Twitter.

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