Syracuse's Drew Allen, a study in perseverance
SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP)
Coming out of high school in San Antonio, Texas, Drew Allen had all the tools to succeed as a college quarterback: he was 6-foot-5 and 210 pounds, could throw a ball 70 yards while standing flat-footed, ran a 4.7-second 40-yard dash, bench-pressed 265 pounds, squatted 345, had a vertical leap of 29 inches, and excelled in the classroom.
Add in his affable demeanor, and he's a coach's dream.
Even though he had offers from several schools -Oklahoma State, Ole Miss, Wake Forest, Colorado, Vanderbilt, even Harvard and Yale of the Ivy League - when Oklahoma called and he hit it off with quarterbacks coach Josh Heupel, the soft-spoken Texan became a Sooner.
The reasoning was sound: Allen would learn from Sam Bradford, a Heisman Trophy winner, and there was only one other quarterback on the roster, Landry Jones.
''Every other school had four or five scholarship guys on campus,'' Allen said. ''So, the opportunity there to go in and compete and have a fair shot as a redshirt freshman and learning from a Heisman Trophy winner - that opportunity was there and I really wanted that.''
As expected, Bradford left college a year early and was the top pick in the NFL draft, but the chance Allen expected never materialized and demonstrates what a crap shoot the business of college football can be.
''The opportunity was set up for me to learn from a Heisman Trophy winner for a full year - he'd be going to the NFL and I'd be able to compete,'' Allen said. ''I would have matured by then in the offense. Landry Jones would only have six months on me. Having that competition didn't work out, but that was what went through my mind.''
After redshirting in 2009, Allen withstood the challenge of rookie Blake Bell and became the backup to Jones. During his college career, Bradford had suffered a concussion and underwent shoulder surgery, so it seemed only a matter of time before Allen might get that chance.
''He was one snap away from being the guy at Oklahoma for three years,'' said Allen's dad, Andy, a defensive end at Texas in the 1970s. ''Landry Jones, I don't think he even lost a shoe for three years. That's ridiculous. We thought Landry was leaving all along. That's the reason we stuck around. If Landry had left, Drew would have been the guy. Then Landry decided to stay and I got the worst phone call I ever got - when Drew called to tell me.''
Allen stayed at Oklahoma for four years, but it didn't work out. Then he transferred to Syracuse for his final year of eligibility and won the starting job. Now he's the backup with one regular-season game remaining in his college career, against Boston College on Saturday in the Carrier Dome.
Allen was one of several star quarterbacks in Texas to graduate high school in 2009, and several have taken different paths. Garrett Gilbert, a five-star recruit out of Austin, followed a near-legend in Colt McCoy at Texas, then left in the middle of what should have been his second season as the starter and transferred to SMU, where he's morphed into a star; Cody Green, a four-star QB out of Dayton, chose Nebraska, then transferred to Tulsa; Tyrik Rollison, a four-star, dual-threat quarterback from Sulphur Springs, committed to Auburn, then abruptly left for junior college when Cam Newton transferred and became one of five players vying for the starting job; and Russell Shepard of Houston, the No. 1 QB prospect and top athlete of that class, went to LSU hoping to play quarterback but switched to receiver his sophomore season and now is in the NFL.
Allen stayed true to his choice. In four years at Oklahoma, he saw action in 12 games, completing 18 of 30 pass attempts for 160 yards and did not throw a touchdown or an interception.
''Basically, what was going through my head those four years was, it's gonna come, it's gonna come, it's gonna come, it's gonna come, and it never did. So be it,'' Allen said. ''I loved the fact that I was a part of such a great program taught by such great people, and I was around such great players. I still talk to those guys.''
With one season of eligibility remaining and his degree in hand, Allen transferred to Syracuse, a program desperate for a quarterback after the departure of record-setting Ryan Nassib, for that one last shot as a graduate student. He won the support of his teammates, was tabbed the starter by first-year coach Scott Shafer just before the opening kickoff of the season, then was benched after subpar games against Penn State and Northwestern and has played only sporadically since behind sophomore Terrel Hunt.
''I never once thought about transferring until I had to,'' said Allen, who has maintained an even keel through it all and still works as hard as the day he arrived. ''I committed to that team just like I'm committed to this team. When I set my mind on something, I'm not going to quit. That's how I was raised.''
Dad can only marvel.
''He's got the greatest attitude and the worst timing of anybody in the world,'' said Andy Allen, who, along with wife Julie, has not missed any of Drew's games in college and will be in the Carrier Dome on Saturday for the season finale. ''I can't tell you how proud I am of that kid, what he's done. He's handled this situation, which is not a good situation. He's just a classy kid.''
In seven games for the Orange, Allen is 68 of 122 for 666 yards passing with two touchdowns and nine interceptions.
''Even though there's some sting because it hasn't worked out maybe the way they had hoped, there's a lot of respect for the game that you can see by the way Drew has supported his team, been in a situation to be ready to go when called upon,'' Shafer said. ''Really have appreciated his selfless approach to the game.''
The family remains hopeful this isn't the end.
''He has a lot of self-confidence,'' Andy Allen said. ''He's going to go through a pro day and all that, but I truly believe that somebody's going to pick him up. He's got everything but experience. That's what we thought we would get when he moved, you know. Whatever. Things happen for a reason. That's just the way it is. You can't look back.''