Close quarters: Groomed to be a quarterback, Allen brings Texas pedigree to Syracuse

There’s a certain persona expected of a Texas high school quarterback. It accompanies the almost surreal world that is Texas during football season.

In Drew Allen’s world, football – even of the high school variety – is a way of life. One that captures the heart and attention of a town once every week during the fall.

The dream is to be a quarterback, play in a big-time conference — perhaps the Big 12 — and one day, if it all goes right, to become a superstar.

For Allen, step one is done. Step two is in his past. A detour to Syracuse is what could make step three a reality.

“I have one year,” Allen said, “so I’ve got to do everything in my power to get up here as early as possible, leave here late, so I’m prepared for every single day.”

Each step of Allen’s football life was taken with the intention of achieving the dream that many a young boy in Texas possess.

They start playing football early there. Some strap on pads as young as 5 years old.

The Tiny-Mite division in San Antonio’s Pop Warner league requires players ages 5-7 to weigh no more than 75 pounds and allows players as light as 35.

Down South, quarterbacks are groomed. Allen’s father, Andy, played football at Texas for Hall of Fame head coach Darrell Royal. Drew Allen’s become the idealist portrait of a Texas starting quarterback.

Six feet 5 inches, 226 pounds, a “cannon” arm and a rugged look to go with a clean-cut attitude — he’s achieved an Eagle Scout ranking. He is, in many ways, the picturesque gunslinger, almost something of myth.

From a distance, he was more a work of fiction than a real person.

“When you see him you’re like, ‘That’s a quarterback,’” SU running back Jerome Smith said.

What did it matter that he sat on the bench for three years? He was behind Sam Bradford and Landry Jones. Syracuse doesn’t get talents like that.

He had it all: the physique, the talent, the look of a quarterback — including the pedigree of a Texas state champion.

2013 SU FOOTBALL PRACTICE

The Daily Orange

That world is something of a foreign idea to much of a Syracuse roster that hails from the Northeast. Alamo Heights High School in San Antonio isn’t quite of the same quality as some schools near Dallas, but the town still shuts down on Friday nights and high school games are treated like college ones.

“It’s huge,” Allen said. “The high school revolves around their football team and kind of the success of their football team.”

They are, he said, like the movies portray them. There are some players who get caught up in the attention, but he’s tried to stay away from that. The spotlight, however, shines especially brightly upon a high school quarterback in the state of Texas.

It already gives him a leg up on his competition. Even if Allen has never started a game in college, his years of playing ball at a near-college level taught him the rigors of high-level competition.

“I kind of wish I played somewhere else,” said Terrel Hunt, who played in New York, “because you get more publicity and not only that, you actually have better coaching and people that live for that job.”

Of course, a quarterback like the ones painted in the movies needs a big arm, and that’s the first thing that stands out about Allen to his teammates.

“I’ll just sum it up in one word: cannon,” defensive tackle Eric Crume said. “He’s going to let it rip.”

“In practice we see it and he’ll throw the deep ball,” linebacker Cameron Lynch said, “and we’re like, ‘Whoa.’”

It’s his hallmark. Even head coach Scott Shafer tells stories of Allen whizzing the ball 70 yards through the air.

The long ball was actually one of the few areas in which Ryan Nassib struggled. He had the arm strength, without a doubt, but the bombs weren’t always on target.

That’s not to say Allen’s arm is a proven commodity. In the Orange’s scrimmage in Fort Drum, N.Y., Allen connected on just two passes that traveled for more than 10 yards through the air. But when his deep ball impresses his competition, it’s almost definitely an indication his arm strength is something.

“Sometimes he just chucks it and it feels like the ball just never comes down,” Hunt said.

But in the limited opportunities he’s had since joining the Orange, Allen has proven to be more than a statuesque presence behind the line of scrimmage. He darted downfield for the only substantial run in SU’s Fort Drum scrimmage.

“At first I was like, ‘He’s a little stiff,’” Hunt said, “but once he started moving, I was like, ‘OK, he’s got a little moves.’”

Either option could give Syracuse a bit more of a hybrid look. Hunt said the two are probably more similar than most would expect.

But this is something expected of Allen. A three-star recruit from Texas, a Big 12 talent, should be able to start at quarterback for an Orange team that has struggled for the better part of the last decade.

His world is foreign. His practices started at the crack of dawn. It was too hot to start in the afternoon like SU does now. In his apartment he shares with, among others, center Macky MacPherson, there is a pair of mounted deer antlers and a bobcat pelt placed there by the avid hunter, and a picture of family friend and former Houston Astros star Lance Berkman.

Allen is a long way from home now, but it just so happens that Syracuse is the final checkpoint he must cross to achieve his ultimate dream.

“Just the opportunity,” Allen said. “The opportunity to compete. They didn’t promise me anything, but they promised that I’d have the opportunity to compete for the starting job.”

Banner photo by Ziniu Chen | Staff Photographer