Everybody in the Kentucky football program thought Moncell Allen would be a great replacement for John Conner at fullback.
Everybody except Moncell Allen, that is.
In Allen's mind, he was a tailback. And when whispers began to surface in the off-season that Coach Joker Phillips was planning to move Allen to fullback full-time, he didn't want to hear it.
"I wasn't too happy at all about it," Allen said. "I heard it from teammates that Joker was talking about moving me to fullback. I said, 'Man, I ain't going to fullback until he comes and talks to me.' "
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Phillips did eventually approach Allen, and he broke it down to him in simple terms. At tailback, Allen would have been behind Derrick Locke, Donald Russell and perhaps even talented freshman Raymond Sanders. At fullback, he could step right into a starting role.
"I said, 'Do you want to be in this stance (with your helmet in your hand on the sidelines) or do you want to be in this stance (hand on the ground in fullback position)?" Phillips said.
Locke, one of Allen's closest friends on the team, got in on the sales job.
"We really had a long talk about it," Locke said. "I told him how much I needed him and how much the offense needed him, and he couldn't be selfish in his decision. He wasn't going to play a lot of tailback with me back there, and I told him he needed to start thinking about his future and his family. If I do my thing and NFL scouts are looking at me, those same scouts are going to be looking at him. If scouts are looking at certain linebackers, he's out there busting 'em up, they're going to notice him. I told him to take advantage of the opportunity. We're all trying to get this money."
Allen slowly started to come around. And whatever doubts he still had were erased once he started watching Conner, a fifth-round pick of the New York Jets, turn into an overnight sensation on the NFL reality TV show Hard Knocks.
"Now I realize (moving to fullback) can actually help me get in the league," he said. "Seeing John go to the league and get drafted, and then go out there and the noise he's making right now, it's putting in my head that I can go out there and do what he's doing, and do maybe even better than what he's doing. Watching Hard Knocks makes it all worthwhile. It's so crazy to see one of your teammates that you know and hang out with be on TV doing the things he does in the NFL right now."
Phillips said the attention Conner has received is helping to overcome the negative stigma associated with fullbacks.
"They all saw Hard Knocks, they saw all the plays where you run into people all day, and don't touch the ball," Phillips said. "But they also saw the praise that (Conner) was getting across the country on that. I was talking to one of the scouts, and the reason that John Conner was rated as the No. 1 fullback coming out is because he knew what he was. The fullbacks across the country, they've still got this tailback mentality. John Conner knew he was a fullback. We convinced Moncell he's a fullback. That will help us convince the next person they're a fullback. The position is not going to get much glory, but they are very valuable to us in this football team."
Running backs coach Larry Brinson said that Allen (listed at 5-foot-7, 232 pounds) is a more natural fit at fullback than Conner, who was 4 inches taller.
"He's made for it," Brinson said. "He doesn't have to bend. John was a taller guy and had to bend. Moncell's already at that level. He's low to the ground and just runs into people. He gets up under you and he's powerful and explosive, and he doesn't have a neck. A long-neck guy would have problems."
Brinson said Locke always makes sure to pat Allen on the back after he makes a key block and even does it in practice.
"Derrick hugs him and loves him every day," Brinson said. "Any time Moncell makes a good block, Derrick gives him praise, and that's smart on his part, because that's helping him be better. They're really helping each other get better."
Allen's first game at fullback was a rousing success, as he sent Louisville bodies flying all over the place in helping Locke to a 104-yard performance. Allen delivered a pivotal block that sprang Locke loose on the left side for a 1-yard TD that put the Cats up 13-0.
"I know with Moncell out there, that's just one less guy I've got to worry about," Locke said. "I know he's going to take his man out. On the short run, when I got the ball out on the perimeter, I said to myself, 'Cell's got this blocked,' and I walked right into the end zone."
Now that Allen has had a much-talked-about debut, Phillips feels like the sales job is just about complete.
"It helps that he had success," he said. "Everybody saw it. The world saw him. The world saw him mowing people down. I think that helps convince himself it's not a bad gig after all."