LARAMIE, Wyo. — Having a quarterback explode onto the national stage the way Josh Allen has — especially a quarterback at a small-market program like Wyoming — can affect a program in any number of ways.
There are tangible benefits, like having such a talented quarterback on your team in the first place, and there are intangible benefits, such as the added attention Allen has brought Wyoming as a team, a program and a university.
There is also the matter of motivation. When Allen chose to return for his junior season, it was implied that it would be for just one more year, barring a disastrous 2017. Imagine, then, being a freshman whose fall camp will determine whether you spend your first collegiate season redshirting or playing alongside a potential No. 1 draft pick. Would you not want to be on the field?
Head coach Craig Bohl said during the offseason he didn’t believe Allen’s fame would affect freshmen.
“I think our guys, they all have aspirations to play on national TV (but) we were on national TV a lot last year,” Bohl said. “That’s something that those players strive for, but there’s such a learning curve on what they’re doing, I don’t think they’ll say, ‘OK, I want to be on this team this year.’ Well, we don’t know how far we’re going to go (in 2017).”
And to be sure, some players are trying to avoid letting the Allen hype hit them.
“I don’t try to take it too heavily,” said offensive lineman Alonzo Velazquez, who will likely play as a true freshman. “He’s just another teammate. But it’s definitely different to have a player that will be going to the NFL. But no, I just try to focus on what I’ve got to do and help my team out. It’s not about one person. It’s about the whole team, trying to make it better. I definitely just take it lightly.”
But the idea of playing with Allen this season appeared to draw a smile from most freshmen.
“Yeah, (it’s) motivation to work hard,” said defensive tackle Ravontae Holt, whom Bohl expects to play as a true freshman. “Maybe you can get some looks, too. Because there’s NFL scouts coming every day, watching in practice.”
Of course, coaches have the say in whether or not a freshman will forgo his redshirt year. But the incentive to do so is even greater when it means you’ll actually get to interact with Allen himself.
In 2016, Torrington graduate Logan Harris was just a Wyoming fan. In 2017, as a true freshman, he’ll be delivering the ball to Allen as Wyoming’s starting center.
“Watching him on TV last year, and this year I’m snapping to him — I wouldn’t say it’s weird, but it’s definitely really cool,” Harris told the Casper Star-Tribune (http://bit.ly/2x2krV1).
Receivers Avante’ Cox and Jared Scott will get the chance to catch passes from Allen as true freshmen, as neither are expected to redshirt.
“I mean, coming here, I definitely wanted to be able to play with him while he’s here,” Scott said. “So I want to get out there with him.”
Said Cox: “Yeah, that’s a good reason to get out there. He has by far the best arm in college football right now. His balls have the nicest touch, so it’s easy to catch.”
Scott has also noticed the difference between catching passes from a high school quarterback and catching passes from an NFL draft prospect.
“Oh for sure, because you really don’t have to be that open,” Scott said. “He can throw you open. But obviously you want to get more open. But just the ability to know that he can still get you the ball, that’s different. I have to know that the ball can always come at any point.”
Meanwhile, redshirt or not, defensive players like C.J. Coldon have reveled in practicing across from Allen.
“He’s an awesome QB,” said Coldon, a true freshman cornerback, “so he’s really getting us ready for the next level. … Because most of our QBs in our league aren’t like him. He’s just a different beast. … I’ve never seen a QB who could throw with that much power off the back foot.”
Plus, getting an interception off Allen in practice is a nice feather in a defensive back’s cap.
“It’d be cool,” Coldon said, “(intercepting a) future first-round draft pick.”
Tyler Vander Waal might have the most unique perspective of all. The freshman quarterback will redshirt this season, but he could benefit the most from the notoriety Allen has brought to the Wyoming quarterback position.
“I kind of like seeing Josh get all this attention, because being the Mountain West conference, not a top-five group, it’s nice to know that those guys can get attention, too,” Vander Waal said. “I like the attention Josh is getting, because I know that in a couple of years I could be in that same position.”
But Allen’s influence extends beyond simply the number of eyeballs he brings to a program. He was recently named a team captain for the second straight year.
“It pushes me a lot,” true freshman offensive lineman Eric Abojei said, “especially with all the coaches (Allen) brings in here and just the respect he has here and the positive attitude he provides for the team. That’s what really brought me here, too. I wanted to get close to him and just get a feel off of him. Especially, Wyoming has produced a lot of players, and I want to be one of those players that’s able to be produced, and get somewhere just like Josh.
“I’m building a relationship with Josh, trying to get a feel for him. He’s teaching me things. I’m learning plays. That’s a big motivation, especially trying to get on the field this year, just being able to block for him.”
Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, http://www.trib.com