Profile piece during his playing days at Idaho State

Maximizing his potential

By Ed Odeven

(Published in the Arizona Daily Sun)

Jared Allen will be the first to admit he’s always had athletic ability, but didn’t always maximize his potential.

His ability has now reached a zenith.

Allen leads all of Division I with 16.5 sacks and is on an incredible tear right now — five consecutive multi-sack games, including four against Eastern Washington on Oct. 4 and 3.5 against Montana two weeks later.

“I’ve really started to come into my own a little bit,” said Allen, who along with 22nd-ranked Idaho State will face No. 20 NAU Saturday at 6:05 p.m. at the Skydome. “I usually was getting by on raw talent and having fun out there. (This year) I really started to work hard in practice and try to develop that talent.”

The senior defensive end is a Buck Buchanan Award candidate, which is issued annually to Division I-AA’s top defensive player. He needs 3.5 sacks to tie the I-AA single-season sack record and five to tie the ISU career record (42.5), which was set by Josh Hays from 1994-96. After sacking Portland State signal-caller Joe Wiser twice last Saturday, Allen tied Hays’ single-season school record.

“Jared’s a young man that’s worked a lot harder this year than he has in the years past,” Bengals coach Larry Lewis said, “and it’s showing up on the field. It’s real important to him and he’s put a lot of effort and time into becoming a good player this year, and every week it becomes more important to him. … Each week, it seems like he’s gotten better and better.”

Allen, a 2000 graduate of Los Gatos (Calif.) High School, gives opposing coaches migraines. He lines up on the left side of the line and on the right side. No matter where he’s playing, there’s one constant that shows up on film: Allen is consistently attacking the quarterback.

“I hope it’s tough,” Lewis said when asked about how teams prepare to contain Allen. “I hope they have to prepare and I hope they have to think about it. That’s kind of the plan going into it is just to make them aware — then it’s going to free somebody else up.”

The 6-foot-6 Allen weighed 275 pounds last year. He’s slimmed down to around 255. Now, he said, he’s more explosive off the ball.

“I’m able to make some plays that I wasn’t able to make last year because I’m faster and stronger,” he admitted. “I’m definitely closer to being the type of player I want to be.”

Like many, Lewis has been impressed with Allen’s pass-rushing prowess this season.

“That’s probably the best thing that he does,” the coach said. “But for any kid, that’s the fun thing to do. Getting double-teamed and all that other stuff, that’s not fun. Rushing the quarterback, that’s always fun.”

Allen also excels at doing the so-called grunt work. He’s the team’s long snapper. In fact, Allen’s ability to snap the football was one factor that prompted Lewis to offer him a scholarship.

“In 23 years of coaching, I’ve never had a better long snapper,” Lewis said.

What’s made Allen such a well-regarded snapper?

Well, he’s been perfecting the craft since he was 8 years old. His father, Ron, a former professional tight end with the Minnesota Vikings and Arizona Wranglers of the defunct USFL, used to have him and his brother practice snapping in their backyard.

It wasn’t like he was forced to rake the leaves at 6:30 in the morning and hated every minute of it. Nope. Allen has grown to love long snapping.

“I definitely take pride in it. It’s something not a lot of people can do,” said Allen, who can accurately snap the ball from 30 yards out. “It’s kind of an overlooked position. But it’s like second nature to me. I’ve worked hard at it. It’s definitely going to help me with my goals to move on to the next level and play ball.”

Indeed, versatile players are enticing to NFL general managers, who must simultaneously deal with free agency and the salary cap while figuring out how to give their team depth. And Allen has had his fair share of attention this season — most of the NFL’s 32 teams have sent a scout to Idaho State practices, and a few, including the Bills, Dolphins, Eagles and Packers, have been there two or more times.

As his college career winds down, Allen has become a defender who commands respect from foes.

“He’s pretty tough to block one-on-one,” NAU coach Jerome Souers said. “We haven’t seen any game where people have answers for him consistently.”

And, naturally, Allen is quite proud of that recognition.

“Your senior year, your last campaign, your last hurrah in college, you always want to go out on top,” the mass communications major said. “I have some personal goals that I wanted to accomplish this year. Through my work ethic this summer, I busted my hump this summer; I was able to accomplish all that.”

Opposing quarterbacks know all about that.