Wyoming's Josh Allen focuses on the grind amid deafening 2018 NFL Draft hype
The Cowboys' quarterback has the draft in future and a year to put all the pieces together
For the record, Josh Allen is shocked too.
One minute, Wyoming's quarterback is chasing down a San Diego State defensive back bound for the end zone with one of Allen's 15 interceptions last season, the next he's in the frontal lobe every NFL analyst worth his sound bite.
ESPN's Adam Schefter caught a whiff. CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora .
Next thing you know, Allen's small-town, pickup-drivin' story has all but gone viral. At this point, when it comes to 2018 NFL Draft projections, if Allen isn't predicted to be the No. 2 overall player taken, he's No. 1.
What in the name of Carson Wentz?
"It was real crazy," Allen told me this week. "All of a sudden people started calling me, numerous texts. People tweeting at me."
His ascension to the top of draft boards threatens to make a mockery of the pros' scouting ability. (Where have they been on this guy?) On the other hand, it's hard to blame them for being so late to the party.
Allen came out of tiny Firebaugh, California, (population: 8,300) with no offers, came out of junior college with only two. But thanks to a growth spurt and a rocket arm that compares favorably to a certain gunslinger, here we are.
"He's a Brett Favre-type guy," bragged Wyoming coach Craig Bohl.
Except that Allen is 20 and, his coach contends, still doesn't shave.
Bohl laughs heartily when it is suggested he is the closest thing to a quarterback guru as there is at the moment. Bohl and his current offensive coordinator at Wyoming, Brent Vigen, are also largely responsible for developing Wentz at North Dakota State.
If Allen goes as high as most project next year, they would have recruited and developed two top-five quarterbacks in three years. Bohl laughs because he is a 58-year-old on the back stretch who has made a long career out of coaching defense.
"The last guy we had like him was Carson," Bohl said of Allen. "Drives a pick up, which is right up our alley."
Both players were late bloomers. Wentz was famously a. Beginning with his high school sophomore season, Allen grew six inches in four years.
"[The NFL] sees the size, about 6-5, 235 pounds now," Allen said himself. "They see the arm talent. They see the ability. They see the [pro-style] offense we run at Wyoming. They see the production Carson Wentz had with it."
Allen led the Mountain West in passing (3,203 yards) but there is some refining to do with his decision making. Bohl would like to get Allen's 56 percent completion percentage to "the mid-60s, 70s."
Those 15 interceptions were tied for fourth most in FBS.
But even with those flaws, Bohl has a clear vision of Allen's competitiveness. In the Mountain West championship game, Allen threw a careless interception to San Diego State defensive back Damontae Kazee.
The quarterback then took off, tracked down Kazee, put his head down and forced a fumble near the goal line recovered by the Cowboys for a touchback.
"Whenever I throw an interception, it really pisses me off. I'm very angry," Allen said. "… Gave him some revenge for taking my ball."
Allen is getting offseason schooling from an actual quarterback guru. Smelling greatness, noted QB tutor George Whitfield called and has been working with Allen since January.
"The biggest challenge for him and -- it is a monstrous challenge -- is to disregard it all," Whitfield said.
That would be the hype-filled celebrity status assigned to a kid who is suddenly working out with a recovering Johnny Manziel.
"Johnny has been very informative for me," Allen said. "Not just on the field but off the field, staying out of the spotlight, doing the right things."
Yes, he's talking about the Johnny Football and all that goes with the fallen star's fractured reputation. But that's another relapse for another time.
Back in Firebaugh, Allen is legend. Dad raises wheat, cantaloupe and cotton on 2,000 acres 10 minutes out of town. Mother LaVonne Allen's roots in the area go back so far, she just recently sold a local diner "The Farmer's Daughter," named in her honor by her grandfather.
Josh still remembers the night Tom Herman -- then at Ohio State -- popped into a local restaurant. Herman's wife, Michelle, is a Fireabaugh native. LaVonne pumped her for information about being a football wife.
"I was star struck," Allen said. "I always wanted to link up with him."
"One stoplight, no fast-food restaurants," recalled Herman, who first went to Firebaugh a quarter century ago to first meet Michelle's parents. "You can still walk in, buy your groceries and say, 'Put it on my tab.'"
Coming from California's agriculturally rich Central Valley, all Josh ever wanted to do was play for Fresno State, 40 minutes away. They never called.
The national camp circuit was never a possibility. How could it be when Allen's body was just filling out and his offers coming out of Reedley College were Wyoming and Eastern Michigan?
"He's got a lot to live up to now," Vigen said.
LaVonne Allen said agents have been approaching the family since at least Dec. 21 when Wyoming played in San Diego at the Pointsettia Bowl. That forced Josh to significantly consider coming out for the draft. Bohl said he believed his quarterback's draft evaluation was to stay in school.
"Physically, he's probably ready to be there, but mentally, I don't think we had the time for him to be there," LaVonne Allen said. "… It felt rushed to us."
Fortunately, too fast didn't translate to too much, too soon.
"The NFL is inevitable," Whitfield said. "Imagine you're looking at a long dirt road and it's a mile long. Hundreds of yards in front of you is grizzly bear. The mile down the road is another grizzly bear. The first one is next season, the second one is the NFL.
"You can be aware of the second one, but it doesn't matter if you can't get past this first one. He could play, start, star at any school right now. … Anybody around his world should be excited, [but] his focus has to be on the first bear."
Along for the ride are reputations, several of them.
Allen's success is a win for the Mountain West. The Group of Five conferences' separation from the big boys in the Power Five grows wider by the day.
Allen is homegrown coming from the West. Wyoming's had one quarterback taken in the last 50 years of the draft, none in the last 13 years and never in the first round.
It's another achievement Bohl, whose late-career success is astounding. Since being run out of Nebraska as defensive coordinator in 2002, he won three FCS national championships and is about to develop his second top quarterback.
That's less of an achievement than getting to Allen's in-home visit in the first place. Coming from across the country, Bohl's plane had to make an emergency landing in Wichita, Kansas, a couple of years ago.
"It was a glitch," the coach said. "They felt like they had an issue with pressurization with the cabin. It was one of the more enjoyable home visits that I had."
When Bohl left North Dakota State in 2013, Vigen made the decision to go with him. Instead of chasing FCS championships in Fargo, North Dakota, Vigen finds himself talking to NFL general managers.
Former 49ers GM Trent Baalke dropped by Laramie one day in the preseason. San Francisco was playing three hours away in Denver.
"Josh wasn't on anybody's radar, and he said, 'Who in the heck is that guy?'" Bohl recalled.
After that visit, the earliest word on Allen may have leaked out.
This summer, Allen will work the respected Manning Passing Academy. There's a chance he might work with noted NFL quarterback trainer Jordan Palmer. Whitfield has already warned him about grizzly bears.
All of it is a refreshing reminder there are still 20-year-olds who don't shave out there under the radar worth having.
"You have to want to go to Firebaugh," Vigen said of the recruiting process.
It's even harder to get out of there.
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