It was all just too much.
There was his name on potential NFL Draft boards. There it was again on several national midseason award lists.
Months later, Kentucky’s Josh Allen admits that it was all just too much.
“Last year I let the hype get to me,” Allen said in an interview this summer with the Herald-Leader. “I didn’t know how to deal with that. I went from nobody knowing me and having to prove myself to people now noticing me and getting recognized for my talent.”
Other teams started noticing the former two-star outside linebacker from Montclair, N.J., too.
Allen finished his junior season in 2017 with 65 tackles with UK team bests in tackles for loss (9.5), sacks (seven) and quarterback hurries (four). But he didn’t record a sack or a tackle for loss in the final five games.
Some of that was the extra attention offenses suddenly were paying to Allen. Some of it probably came from the extra attention — and pressure — Allen was putting on himself.
“I’m on TV feeling like I made it and that kind of messed me up toward the end of the season,” Allen confided.
But this season he’s a different Josh Allen, more ready for the hype, more comfortable with the spotlight, more mature all around.
“I can handle it now,” said Allen, who decided not to leave early for the NFL Draft, returning to Kentucky to build up his body and hopefully help anchor the defense. “I want my name to be out there.”
When some of the pre-NFL Draft lists came out back in October with Allen’s name on them, Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops called it “reckless.”
“He’s a true junior,” Stoops said then. “Let’s let him play the game and mature and play the right way. That kind of information is very, very, like I said, reckless, and it’s hard for kids not to hear that.”
Ten months later, Stoops welcomes the attention for his player who has become a vocal leader and a leader by example for Kentucky’s defense.
“I know he’s got his head screwed on straight and I know he’s trying to do the right
things,” Stoops said. “And working really hard is all you can do. Control the things you can control.”
Allen is doing just that, altering his body, especially his lower body, significantly so that he is more explosive. The senior is up to 260 pounds and not showing signs of slowing down despite the extra muscle.
“He’s running around, lifting at (260) like it’s nothing,” Stoops said this summer. “That comes from discipline. He works hard in the weight room. There’s also some things between him and God. Some things are just God given.”
It’s not just coaches who can see the difference in Allen beyond the extra pounds of muscle.
“He’s not just physically, but mentally, grown up a ton,” senior tight end C.J. Conrad said of Allen at Southeastern Conference Media Days. “Just taking care of his body, acting the right way off the field, treating people with respect, being a good teammate, being a leader, just stepping up and being vocal.”
“Josh Allen is a completely different person than he was at this time last year. Good dude, just a lot more mature.”
For his career, Allen has 19.5 career tackles for loss and 14.5 sacks. He needs 12 more to break the UK record for sacks and five more to get to second place, besting Bud Dupree.
Those are all things on his to-do list this season, along with not having that midseason drop, not letting the praise become his poison.
“I just try to stay in the moment, stay humble every day,” Allen said. “That’s my main goal every day to stay humble and don’t forget who I am.”
It’s their job as coaches to make sure he doesn’t get stuck in that spotlight again this season, new outside linebackers coach Brad White said.
Allen has plenty to work on and White has been a good sounding board for him, having coached that position for the Indianapolis Colts before joining Kentucky’s staff this spring.
“If he has a good start, (the hype is) all going to come back and he’s got to just continue to focus on the job at hand and that’s what we need to do,” White said. “If we just work on the everyday. Being good today, good tomorrow, everything else will take care of itself.”
Scouting the Cats
This is the first of nine stories looking at the 2018 Kentucky football team position by position.
Scouting the linebackers
The main man: After a strong start last season, Josh Allen sputtered a bit on the field at the end. Now a more mature and much bigger player, Allen will try to best his 65 tackles and team-best tackles for loss (9.5), sacks (seven) and quarterback hurries (four) from a season ago. Allen also moves over to the “Jack” linebacker spot, which could give him more opportunities to hound opposing quarterbacks.
The supporting cast: A shoulder injury last season and then a shoulder surgery this spring almost have made weakside linebacker Jordan Jones a forgotten man. But the senior, who led the Cats in tackles two seasons ago and still managed 64 (7.5 for loss and two sacks) last season despite sitting out four games with injury, could be the key to UK’s defensive success. Allen and Jones will be counted on to help lead a relatively inexperienced group that includes middle linebacker Kash Daniel and outside LB Boogie Watson. On the outside, there are several promising players like Kengera Daniel and Jordan Wright as well as other true and redshirt freshmen. Inside linebackers expected to contribute include Alex King, DeAndre Square and Chris Oats.
Outlook: There are names you know like Jones and Allen, but there also are names that are going to have to take on much bigger roles this season like Daniel and Watson, who played sparingly a season ago and now have to step in for productive graduates in Courtney Love and Denzil Ware, respectively. Others like Wright and King and even some true freshmen might have to step into the center of UK’s defense and make key plays. Linebacker — both the inside and outside kind — might be the only defensive position group where an injury to a veteran might suddenly make things more precarious for the Cats.