In high school, he was unheralded. Same thing with junior college. Even last fall as Wyoming’s starting quarterback, Josh Allen flew under the radar nationally.
Then like a ferocious Laramie wind gust, the hype came.
Not only could the 6-foot-5, 233-pound junior be an NFL-caliber quarterback, but Allen could be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 draft, scouts said. The size, the arm strength, the mobility — those are what make a next-level talent.
All that attention, all the praise, and now, the massive expectations, were a surprise to Allen, yet he was still ready to embrace it.
“It’s been hectic, but it’s brought a lot of press to the University of Wyoming, which I love,” Allen said. “... It definitely inspires me, but at the same time I try to block it out. To me, there’s 14 games this year. I’m focused on (that). Whatever follows is going to follow.”
Allen grew up in Firebaugh, Calif. (population 8,000), and upon graduation attended Reedley College (enrollment 12,000) in his home state. His only Football Bowl Subdivision offer came from Wyoming, the flagship school of the least-populated state in the nation. So, yes, the attention was unexpected even to Allen.
“I’ve always been the small-school kid,” he said. “... It’s been crazy.”
Wyoming coach Craig Bohl recruited Carson Wentz to North Dakota State. The comparisons to the No. 2 pick in 2015 with Allen are frequent: Wentz is 6-5, 237 pounds, the offensive system is nearly the same and both can keep plays going with their legs. Like Wentz, Bohl struck gold with a big-framed, small-town guy.
“I think we did our homework, but I think we also got a little lucky,” Bohl said.
Last season, his first as the Cowboys’ starter, Allen completed 209 of 373 passes (56 percent) for 3,203 yards with 28 touchdowns and 15 interceptions, adding 523 rushing yards and seven more touchdowns. Against Boise State in the Cowboys’ win, he was 18-of-31 passing for 274 yards with three touchdowns and an interception, adding 53 rushing yards.
He was second-team All-Mountain West, Boise State’s Brett Rypien was first-team. On Tuesday, Allen was named the conference’s preseason offensive player of the year. Wyoming plays at Boise State on Oct. 21.
ESPN’s Mel Kiper lists Allen as the No. 3 prospect in the 2018 draft and Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller has him No. 1. ESPN’s Adam Schefter said in April on the draft’s last day “put it in the books” that Allen will be the top selection.
With all his physical tools, it’s the intangibles that separate the great ones. Wyoming junior safety Andrew Wingard, the Mountain West preseason defensive player of the year, said Allen has that in spades.
“I’d say the biggest thing is his leadership. You can be a 6-5, 230-pound guy that can throw it a country mile, but if you have no leadership, what does that mean?” Wingard said. “He brings everyone along with him. ... that’s what sets him apart.”
It shouldn’t surprise anyone that Allen sees the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers as an inspiration. To opposing fans, some of their tight-window, on-the-run passes might be “lucky,” but they also require more than a little skill.
Of course, Allen is not a perfect quarterback. His completion percentage ranked 89th in the FBS. According to Pro Football Focus, 72 percent of his passing yards came through the air, most in the nation. That means his receivers did little work after catching the ball. Wyoming’s pro system includes very few screens or passes to running backs. But that might change a bit.
“Definitely not OK ... we aired it out a lot,” Allen said. “But that doesn’t excuse not completing over 60 percent. I’m working on fixing that this year. We’re developing a plan to make that a little easier.”
Rypien said Allen deserves the accolades and the preseason honor, despite being the postseason first-team quarterback himself the last two seasons. They decided to hang out while in Las Vegas and check out some of the casinos Tuesday night.
“Really good guy, obviously a really good player,” Rypien said. “It was good to talk about stuff outside of football. We have the same pressures, whether it’s Wyoming or Boise State. You’d never know that guy was maybe going to be the No. 1 pick.”
In his own division, Allen also has Colorado State’s Nick Stevens, who was perhaps the conference’s best passer late in the season. Utah State returns starter Kent Myers, while Air Force and New Mexico have Arion Worthman and Lamar Jordan, who went a combined 13-1.
“It makes us more tactical in our approach,” Allen said. “Holding onto the football, it’s extremely crucial. I threw 15 interceptions last year, that’s not good enough. Knowing there’s other good quarterbacks and good offenses out there, it makes me want to protect it that much more.”