When Josh Allen was mulling his decision to stay at Kentucky another season or leave early for the NFL Draft, his coach was a huge part of the process.
But on this decision about whether or not the senior linebacker wanted to play in the upcoming Citrus Bowl or skip postseason play to get ready for the draft and avoid potential injury, Coach Mark Stoops stayed far away.
The UK coach only told Allen that his legacy at Kentucky — one of setting season and career sacks records in 2018 and winning multiple defensive player of the year honors — is already set in stone.
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“Nobody would judge you any differently if you choose not to play in this game,” Stoops said he told Allen, whose name is predicted to be called early in the first round of the upcoming NFL Draft.
“I wanted him to truly make that decision on his own, whatever he felt in his heart, whatever he felt was the right decision because we just respect him that much and he’s done so much for this place.”
So Allen took his time, thinking about his options between plane trips around the country to various awards ceremonies this week.
Before heading out again — this time to California on Saturday for the Lott Trophy presentation — the senior linebacker stopped in Lexington long enough for practice with his teammates and to inform them that he decided to play in the Citrus Bowl versus Penn State.
“I’m deeply humbled by the nominations and awards I have received this week,” Allen said in a post on social media Friday afternoon. “I want to thank my coaches, my teammates and the BBN.
“I am honored to say we have unfinished business and my teammates and I plan to bring the Citrus Bowl Trophy back to Lexington. BBN see you in Orlando!”
At his first full news conference since bowl pairings were announced, Stoops said he was happy for Allen and for UK.
“It just says a lot about who he is and the way he cares about this place and the way he cares about his teammates,” Stoops said, noting that Allen hopes to improve his draft stock and “he wants to help us win a football game.”
The team was excited when Allen made the announcement, Stoops said.
The head coach has met with several professional scouts in the past few days and many commented that Allen is an example they’re using to some current juniors who are weighing their options this year. Kentucky’s senior will make significantly more money because he stayed and developed himself more fully, Stoops said.
Other NFL Draft talk
In the past seven years, Kentucky has had just 11 players drafted, but Stoops seemed confident that UK will match that number for the upcoming draft.
“I’d say 11, in the neighborhood of 11 or 12 guys who can potentially get drafted,” Stoops said.
At least two Kentucky juniors, running back Benny Snell and offensive lineman Logan Stenberg, have asked Stoops to seek information about their NFL Draft prospects as well.
Having so many potential Cats in the draft is another step in the program’s growth, Stoops said, crediting the UK strength and conditioning staff with much of the upcoming success.
“It’s year after year after year after year of signing quality players and then developing them and working with them, mentally, physically in all areas of their life and as you do that, you’re going to start to see the fruits of your labor,” Stoops said.
“It’s really gratifying for me and they work exceptionally hard. When they do the right things, work hard and take the medicine we’re giving them, we’re going to have a chance to be successful.”
Other news and notes
It’s been a whirlwind two weeks for Kentucky’s coach as he tries to get an in-home visit with each UK commitment before the early signing period on Dec. 19.
“That’s got me running all over the place,” he laughed.
So Stoops hasn’t had a lot of time to break down Penn State film and start game planning for the Citrus Bowl on Jan. 1, but UK’s other coaches have done some advance scouting as the Cats start practicing more.
“A very talented football team and Penn State has a rich history and they recruit at a high level every year, so you know there’s a lot of talented players out there and they’re well-coached,” Stoops said of his initial impressions of the Nittany Lions.
▪ No Kentucky players have approached Stoops yet about sitting out the bowl, Stoops said. “Not at this point. I’ve been gone, got back today, haven’t specifically sat down with every one of them, but nobody’s come to me and said that at this point. Doesn’t mean it can’t happen.”
▪ Kentucky’s coach also said he hasn’t been approached by any other players planning to transfer out of the program. So far only third-string quarterback Danny Clark has announced his intentions to play somewhere else.
Kentucky vs. Penn State
When: 1 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 1
Where: Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Fla.