Saturday, December 28, 2013
Football journey: Ryan Allen
By Mike Reiss
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- When rookie punter Ryan Allen went undrafted and signed a free-agent contract with the Patriots on May 3, he was a longshot to stick.
The Patriots had incumbent Zoltan Mesko, and while Allen was a two-time Ray Guy Award winner as the nation's top collegiate punter, it wasn't as if other teams (two selected punters in the draft) were knocking down his door. It was the Patriots and Raiders, and he ultimately chose New England on a modest contract that included a $1,500 signing bonus and $2,500 base salary guarantee.
But all the Salem, Ore., native was looking for was a chance to prove himself. He got it, won the job in a close competition and has had a solid first season.
Allen, who will turn 24 on Feb. 28, shares his "football journey":
When he first started playing football: "Eighth grade. Middle school lightweights. I was just under the weight limit for light and heavyweight. But then I didn't play in high school until my junior year. I played two years of high school, didn't really pay much attention to it -- I was the kicker and also was playing receiver and [defensive back] as well. I played mostly basketball in high school. Senior year, I started catching on pretty quickly because of my strong soccer background and started getting a couple of [college] letters. Once that happened, I started looking into going to a camp and getting myself evaluated and seeing where I stacked up nationally against everybody else."
Why he first went out for football: "I was big into sports and everybody else did it. I didn't have anything to do in that season. It was right around the time I stopped playing soccer -- I had been playing year-round since I was 8 or 9 years old, traveling up to Portland, Ore., which was about an hour away from where I lived at the time. After a while, being so young and doing one sport the whole time, I kind of got burned out from the whole soccer thing. So when I stopped playing, during the fall, I was looking for something else to do and I figured I'd do what everyone else was doing."
A scouting report on his work as a receiver and defensive back: "I always had good hands and I was decently fast at the time, but not very strong. And corner was just way too hard [laughing]. We had a couple of receivers get D-I offers and I was trying to guard them, getting my ankles broken, falling down. But it was fun."
Ryan Allen made the most of his training camp opportunity, beating out incumbent Patriots punter Zoltan Mesko.
Favorite teams growing up: "I really didn't have one. My first NFL game was the first game I played in. If I had to pick one, it would be the Seahawks because I was only a couple hours from there."
Favorite players growing up: "When I first started paying attention more, it was in college, and at that point I was more focused on the punters and kickers, seeing how they were doing, what they were doing, and trying to pick up on small stuff. [Sebastian] Janikowski and [Shane] Lechler were right up there, in their prime. They were great to watch [with the Raiders]."
Enrolling at Oregon State: "There was a job opening up for the punter position, and it was me and one other walk-on [Johnny Hekker] to win the job. He was an All-State quarterback, bigger, 6-5. With my soccer background, I thought it was a good opportunity. It wasn't guaranteed and we competed hard. They ended up choosing him at the end of the day. I had a rough day and kind of hung my head a little bit, and I think that, to them, it was 'We need a guy who is going to be mentally stable.' As a coach, I would have done the same thing. So he got the scholarship and as I got better, I thought 'I can definitely go play somewhere else.' That's how I made the decision to transfer once that time came."
How he chose Louisiana Tech: "Honestly, the transfer process is brutal. I have a strong opinion on this -- I think it needs to be easier. I think kids get locked up so easily and the mere fact that you can't transfer straight over in a division if a coach has called you more than twice; these are 17- and 18-year old kids we're talking about here. It's too easy for people to sweet-talk them into a program, and when things don't pan out or they don't adapt quickly or perform quickly enough, they're kind of out of luck. For me, it was hard to get my name out there and that I would be eligible to play right away. Some of those bigger schools were kind of iffy. Louisiana Tech was loyal. They had me come down for a visit. It was going to be warmer weather down there. Some of the players who hosted me were my kind of guys. Everything kind of clicked and it felt like the right decision. I got to be at a bigger school for a couple years [at Oregon State] in a bigger-city atmosphere, so the small-town country feel was kind of cool. I liked it."
Top football memories in college: "Going to a bowl game in San Diego was great. That was a year we played very well and it was cool to see players who didn't find success there for a couple of years being able to enjoy that. Also, all those times competing with Johnny at Oregon State, and we went to a couple of Bowl games. Just competing at a younger age, watching all those guys, I'll never forget all that. Another great moment is having a lot of success with our punt coverage team and being able to be recognized nationally [with the Ray Guy Award as the nation's top punter] at the awards ceremony."
Going through the NFL pre-draft process: "I thought I performed well. I could have done better at the Senior Bowl, did well at the combine, nothing spectacular. I felt confident about myself and my abilities, but at the end of the day, I had a lot of good guidance from my agent [Ryan Morgan/Zeke Sandhu] and my uncle who had been through the same scenario. He was telling me the best thing to do is have zero expectations and you're going to end up where you end up, and you have zero control over it. A big motto of mine is 'Don't worry and don't stress over things I can't control.' No one is perfect, but it helps when you have that mentality."
Not being selected in the draft and signing with the Patriots: "It wasn't a big letdown. Obviously, after that, there are moments where you say 'Dang', and there's a bad feeling in the pit of your stomach. But in the end, it's all about competition. Nothing is a guaranteed spot these days and you can be in there and out of there in two days regardless. It all happened extremely fast and all I knew was that it was an option with Oakland, here, and there were a couple of calls to attend a practice as a camp leg [on a tryout]. I wasn't interested in the [tryout]. I wanted a chance where I could come in and compete, and they were straight-forward here. It's a great organization and program, and from a competitive standpoint, it was the better opportunity."
Competing with Zoltan Mesko in training camp and preseason: "It was great. I felt like it was a healthy competition. Zoltan and I got along. I was able to watch him, on the sidelines, in practice, how he goes about things. Holding was new to me. So just being able to visually watch him, and things he did, was helpful."
Summing up his rookie season: "I'm a real big competitor and I nitpick, so the first thing I do is focus on the things I'd like to do better. But overall, first and foremost, to be able to work with [snapper] Danny Aiken and [kicker] Stephen Gostkowski and have them be so open, it's been a very good work environment. It's hard to grab a new holder, especially someone who has never done it before -- a lot of composure and confidence goes into that and you see that with Steve. I think that's the biggest thing I've been proud of -- being able to come in here and do something I wasn't accustomed to doing."
What he loves about football: "The situational aspect of it. Sometimes we may be called upon only two or three times per game, but those given plays, if it goes wrong, it's an all-or-nothing deal. If you're backed up and you mishit it, or you hit it well and it makes a world of difference, pinning them inside the 10 or 5, and giving them 95 yards to go. It has such a big impact on the momentum of the game and that's what I like about what I do in this game. Sometimes I would love to be out there running routes, and doing things more active because I'm an adrenaline junkie. I'm learning, it's a work in progress, and I like where it's headed."
Role models growing up: "When I was little, Sean O'Connor, who was from Salem, Oregon, was my neighbor. He was a big soccer player and he got me into it. I looked up to him. He was the reason I ended up getting into it, so I give him a lot of the credit. It's funny how things start so random like that."
Summing up his football journey: "Perseverance and optimism has gone far for me; up until my senior year of high school, I didn't know what opportunities I would have, or what type of skill set I had at the position. The transferring process was so difficult. There were a few times I didn't think I'd be able to, and I was just thinking about going back to school and not playing any more. It's crazy to think that type of decision could have that type of impact. I don't even know where I would be right now. The perseverance my mom [Sherry] had throughout that whole process. And all the times I felt iffy and insecure about my talent, to be able to push through those and continue to work on something I love is sweet, man. It's why I cherish it and I'm thankful for it. I want to keep working and getting better because it's something I've put a lot of time in to doing. Why stop now?"