LAS VEGAS — Josh Allen needed one thing before going to sleep when he was a kid growing up in tiny Firebaugh, California. And that meant his father had one responsibility when tucking his son into bed each night.
“I would literally cry if my football was not in my bed, and my dad would go and find it for me,” the Wyoming quarterback said Wednesday during Mountain West football media day. “I’ve always loved football, it’s been my favorite sport.”
That’s why the former three-sport star at Firebaugh High School had no trouble abandoning his 92 mph fastball — and offers to play baseball at the next level — to chase his dreams on the football field. Now the rising junior has been thrust into the national spotlight and is sitting atop many mock NFL drafts. The conference’s preseason offensive player of the year, who accounted for 3,726 yards of total offense in 2016, has even been the subject of Heisman chatter.
“Some people will say they love football, I don’t think Josh could live without football,” Wyoming coach Craig Bohl said. “He’s certainly got a passion for it. The fact he was a three-sport athlete when he was younger has served him well. While that may have been a detraction because he didn’t have any of the recruiting stars behind his name … there’s no doubt he’s got a passion for this game.”
Allen’s drive this year stems partly from last year’s loss in the conference championship. The Cowboys hosted San Diego State and lost 27-24 when the Aztecs stopped Wyoming on a fourth-and-20 in the game’s final minute.
Despite posting decent numbers — he threw for 248 yards and three TDs in that game — Allen said he accepts full responsibility after throwing two interceptions, as well. He has spent as much time as he could this offseason in the film room with offensive coordinator Brent Vigen, learning the best ways of taking care of the football and how to make better decisions.
“I’ve been doing everything by any means possible to go out there and finish what we started; mentally I’m right there,” said Allen, whose 28 passing TDs last season rank third among the single-season leaders in school history. “Going back to last year I feel like a majority of my interceptions were based on decision-making. That goes back to putting yourself in a situation of why you threw here, or why you shouldn’t have thrown here, or why you should’ve thrown the ball away.”
Allen doesn’t consider himself one of the nation’s elite quarterbacks but rather an equal member of a team he feels is poised to make a run at the Mountain Division title and to earn a trip back to the Mountain West championship game. He also sees an even loftier goal in the Cowboys’ grasp.
“I keep preaching to the team our goal is the Fiesta Bowl,” he said. “If you reach back to last year we were (picked to finish) dead last. This preseason stuff … I don’t care. We, as a team, know that all this stuff means nothing. You can write it down on paper, it doesn’t mean anything. Last year we won the Mountain Division, and this year we’re going to come out and win as many games as possible.”
Taking all that in stride, it’s his humility and poise that demonstrates a maturity well beyond his 21 years.
“It’s been crazy, it’s been a whirlwind, it’s been fun, a lot of media attention, it brings a lot of notoriety to the program and I think I’ve handled it pretty well,” Allen said. “I really don’t pay attention to much of the articles, or whatever anybody tweets, or texts or tags me in. I can thank my coaches, teammates, family, and friends for keeping me so well-grounded. I truly believe without all of them, maybe I wouldn’t be in the position I am today.
“I’m focused completely and dedicated to the University of Wyoming, I love the teammates there, they’re some of the best friends I’ll ever have in my life, and I’m cherishing every moment that I have up there. If I wanted to be an NFL guy I would have left last year.”