- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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A cornerback doesn't record three pick-sixes in a year and a half of college ball without taking some risks along the way.
Purdue's Ricardo Allen calls himself a risk-taker. Anyone who watches Allen calls him a playmaker.
"You can't be one of the best," Allen said, "if you don't take chances."
It was a lesson Allen learned in high school, and one that has helped him become one of the nation's best young cornerbacks.
The sophomore last Saturday intercepted a MarQueis Gray pass and raced 37 yards to the end zone, as Purdue went on to crush Minnesota. Allen recorded his third interception return for a touchdown in 17 games with the Boilers, tying him with former All-American defensive back Rod Woodson and linebacker Mike Rose for the team record. He had interception returns of 94 yards against Michigan and 35 yards against Michigan State last year.
Allen, who led the Big Ten in interception return yards (129) as a true freshman in 2010, has five interceptions in his career.
"He came on the scene last year as a true freshman and really was a dominant player at times," Purdue coach Danny Hope said. "One thing about Ricardo that makes him such a special player is he's very, very competitive and he's never satisfied.
"He's certainly not afraid to go and make a play."
Allen wasn't always so fearless. Early in his high school career, he lacked confidence and "used to be more conservative."
Then he started studying some of football's best cornerbacks, players like Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie who, like Allen, embraced being in man-to-man coverage.
"My senior year of high school, I used to watch a lot of film and I'd see the best; they always take chances," Allen recalled. "I figured out, ‘What's the worst that can happen?' Even the best get beat."
Like every defensive back, Allen has been humbled. He spent much of a Week 5 game against Notre Dame matched up against Fighting Irish star receiver Michael Floyd, who torched Purdue for 12 receptions, 137 yards and a touchdown in a 38-10 victory.
Allen called Floyd the best receiver he's faced so far in college and thinks the experience will prepare him for other No. 1 wideouts down the road.
Even the best get beat.
"I'm pretty aggressive," he said. "I'm not scared to give up a catch here and there to try and go for an interception every now and then."
Allen can usually sense an interception opportunity early in a particular play.
"If I'm running the route as well as the receiver, I’ll probably go for [the interception]," he said. "But if he gets out of his break before me, most of the time I’ll probably just go for a bat-down.”
Allen's style drew him to Purdue's coaches when they began recruiting him out of Mainland High School in Daytona Beach, Fla. Only 5-foot-9 and 176 pounds, Allen isn't an imposing corner but boasts top-end speed and doesn't shy away from big receivers.
"He's always been a guy who would run fast and break on the ball and gets excited about being a playmaker and making big plays," Hope said. "So he’s hungry. Some of it’s talent and some of it's preparation, and a whole lot of it is want-to on his part.
"He loves to play football, and he loves to be a great player."
Allen knew a bit about Woodson before he arrived at Purdue. He soon realized Woodson's legacy in West Lafayette and watched tape of the two-time Boilers All-American and 11-time Pro Bowler.
Allen has two-and-a-half years to break Woodson's pick-six record. Woodson's career interception yards record (276) also is within reach.
"That's a great accomplishment, being able to have my name with that kind of name," Allen said. "But I'm going to try and go break [the records]. Hopefully, I can."