Allen's ego isn't runaway threat

UM sophomore sparkles given chance but accepts role when Perry healthy

November 21, 2003|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - Josh Allen has speed. He's got power. He's got vision, and he's got guts. When he ran for 257 yards against Virginia on national television last week, he got the attention of the entire country.

But this season, it's been the thing Allen lacks that has made him such an asset to Maryland.

"He doesn't have an ego," said Terps coach Ralph Friedgen.

That comes in pretty handy if you're constantly tinkering and tweaking an offense, as Friedgen is with Maryland. At times this year, Allen has been a classic feature back, like last week when he carried the ball 38 times in the Terps' 27-17 defeat of the Cavaliers. But other times, Allen has stood patiently on the sidelines, willing to take a back seat to senior Bruce Perry, who has fought a two-year battle with injuries.

Against Georgia Tech, Allen had just five carries. Against Florida State, he touched the ball only twice. Allen, a sophomore, has still managed to lead Maryland with 718 yards rushing, and he has scored nine touchdowns in 10 games, easily the best on the team.

"There's certainly been a few times when I felt like I could have made a difference," said the soft-spoken Allen. "You can't be a competitive person if you don't think that way. But I trust the coaching staff, and I've just tried to keep working hard in practice to show them I'm capable of doing the job."

Friedgen has always had faith in Allen, going back to his high school days at Eleanor Roosevelt in Greenbelt. But at the time, Maryland had a surplus of ball carriers, and Friedgen made it clear to his assistants: Don't recruit any more running backs.

"I was afraid we were going to end up with 20 running backs and no offensive linemen," he said.

Something about Allen, however, made Friedgen change his mind. For starters, he decided, this kid had character. Secondly, Friedgen thought if he didn't sign Allen, it would haunt him for years. Georgia Tech was one of Allen's major suitors, and imagining him galloping through Maryland's defense made the decision an easy one.

Finding him a consistent spot in the lineup has proven to be more difficult. Allen averaged 6.8 yards a carry as a true freshman and scored eight touchdowns in as many games, but playing behind Perry and Chris Downs limited him to 60 carries for the year. Both players, Allen concedes, were better pass blockers, and that meant more than any of the big plays he was making. Those included a 70-yard touchdown run against West Virginia and a 60-yard run against North Carolina.

"Physically, I think I was ready," Allen said. "But mentally, I still had a lot to learn. I tend to look back and think about the bad stuff more than I do the good stuff; the blocks I could have made or times I might have run harder."

There is a quiet confidence to Allen, however. He doesn't scream or pump his fist, but he won't back down, either. When Perry and Sam Maldonado were both injured against North Carolina, Maryland's coaching staff wasn't sure what to do heading into the Virginia game. Friedgen spent the week trying to decide whether to burn the redshirt year of freshman Lance Ball. In the hotel the day of the game, quarterback Scott McBrien pulled Allen aside.

"How about 100 yards tonight?" McBrien said.

"How about 200?" Allen responded.

Allen had 154 yards going into the locker room, thanks in great part to an 80-yard run in the second quarter - the Terps' longest of the year. Allen took the handoff, bounced outside and got a great block from tight end Jeff Dugan, and outran two Virginia players to the end zone.

"The entire time I felt like I couldn't run because it was so cold," Allen said. "I kept thinking, `Well, I hope it's affecting them more than it's affecting me.'"

It was the only time all game Allen had to look over his shoulder. For the first time all season, it was his game to win or lose.

"Sometimes the beginning of the game is like the first round of a boxing match, when two fighters are just feeling things out. As it goes on, you recognize tendencies and read the defense better," he said.

This week, Perry is back from an ankle injury, and the two of them will likely split carries again as Maryland travels to N.C. State. Friedgen acknowledged this week that, if this were the NFL or a player with more ego, he'd likely have to work overtime massaging egos, making sure someone didn't feel slighted by the arrangement. Not the case with Allen.

"I don't ever feel the need to talk to let people know what I can do," Allen said. "If I work hard, I know I'll get to show my potential. Talk doesn't matter much once you're out there."

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