BOCA RATON, Fla. — Tim Allen knows the day is coming.
His wife Leslie expects to cry when it does, but he’s anxiously awaiting May 8. That’s the day their son, Gators quarterback signee Jake Allen, enrolls at the University of Florida.
“This is a dream we’ve been working on for years,” Tim says. “I’m excited for him to take the next step.”
It won’t be the first time Tim has dropped his son off to play football by himself. The Allen family lives in Boca Raton, one of the wealthiest communities in the United States.
For a kid with NFL aspirations, that’s not the place to cut your teeth. So at 13 years old, Jake’s father brought him to a youth football tryout for the Deerfield Packer Rattlers.
They received an invitation from Darron Bostic, who everyone knows as “Coach Pimp.” His team was coming off back-to-back championships and in need of a quarterback.
“Where we come from, there’s no white players. Not one in the entire league,” Bostic says. “So he really was a sore thumb. Kids looked at him like he was crazy. … Then they saw him throw.”
Tim watched his son that day from his vehicle. He made Jake walk onto the field alone when they arrived at the tryout.
“I don’t even get out of the car,” Tim says. “Not because I’m afraid, but because I want him to be his own man. That’s a tough thing to ask from a kid that lives on the other side of the tracks.”
Like his father, Allen wasn’t scared to take the field, either. But he admittedly felt awkward and uncomfortable at first.
“It was weird walking out there. I knew no one except Coach Pimp,” Jake says. “But I knew if I wanted to become somebody, I couldn’t keep facing these wimpy Boca Raton kids. They’re playing because their parents signed them up.
“The difference in Deerfield Beach was that these guys live and breathe football. I wanted to be surrounded by people who really want to be there because they would push me to the edge.”
However, they almost pushed Allen away on his first day. He put his iPhone in his sneakers before practice started. Upon returning, the phone was gone.
“They got him real good,” Bostic says. “A lot of the kids are underprivileged and they don’t have much of anything. You can’t leave nothing around because it’ll get taken. I wasn’t letting that go down. I did a little digging around, found out who took the phone and made him bring it back.
“For most kids, that would’ve broke them. They would quit right then and there. But Jake wanted to take on that challenge because he knew what lied ahead of him. He needed to go through adversity. His dad told me he wanted him to face some tougher competition, and that’s what he got.”
Bostic first met the Allen family at Impact Sports Performance, a training facility in Boca Raton. He noticed an aura about Jake in the weight room, and it immediately showed up on the football field.
“Jake came in confident on that first day,” says Bostic, who has been involved with youth football for eight years. “He took command of everything, wasn’t shy at all. I was surprised because that’s a big transition. It was rough and straight hard knocks, but Jake was a tough kid to do what he did.
“In games they were trying to kill him. Practice, too. He always got hit, but he took it. He carried himself differently. It didn’t take long for him to gain respect. The kids started calling him Brady. That was the nickname they gave him. Once the main players fell in love with him, everybody did.”
Allen spent a year and a half with Bostic before moving on to high school football. His father still relishes the decision they made to change youth football leagues.
“Best thing he ever did,” Tim says. “It was amazing to watch him grow up. For him to be able to do that, I was like, ‘Wow, that kid is special.’ He learned how to communicate and relate with anyone. It gave him a different perspective on life.”
Opening up their home
Tim exits a Broward County courtroom and must return in five minutes with an answer for the judge. He’s already made his decision, but now his wife has to make hers.
Life as Leslie Allen knows it is about to change.
“They’re going to send him to jail,” Tim tells his wife over the phone, “unless we do something about it.”
In that moment, the Allens welcomed Giavante Evans into their Boca Raton home. Evans, whose nickname is “GG,” played with Jake on the Deerfield Packer Rattlers and trained with Bostic at Impact Sports Performance.
Like many players on Jake’s youth team, football served as an escape for Evans.
“Toughest kid I’ve ever met,” Tim says. “He had a horrible life, but he’s an amazing kid. GG got in trouble and the judge was going to put him in the system if he didn’t get out of his house.”
Leslie adds, “He was living at his grandparents’ house with 20 people. It was literally just an open house. Every kid should’ve been taken out of there. His mom has eight kids and many of them are lost in the streets.”
Evans, 14 at the time, moved in with Jake and his family after the court hearing. When he arrived at the Allen house, Leslie met him for the first time.
“He comes over with a black garbage bag and that’s all he has,” Leslie says. “He dumps it out and it was like four pieces of clothing all wrinkled and congealed from dirt. And I said, ‘OK. Let’s go shopping.’”
Tim adds, “She’s so giving. She’d take in anybody. She’s a mom to the core.”
Evans lived with the Allens for seven months as they helped turn his life around. Jake shared his room with him for most of that time.
“It definitely felt good to be there for him like that,” Jake says. “The only annoying part was having to listen to him talk to his girlfriend. But no, he made me appreciate things like my parents. If I was disrespectful to my mom, he’d come in there and pound me. I couldn’t mess with him.”
Evans is now 19 and has a son. He keeps in touch with the Allens regularly and they all still spend time together.
“I love GG like one of my kids,” Leslie says. “His baby is like our grandson. Seeing him is always a treat for us.”
In good hands
Allen learned how to be a leader and overcome adversity in the South Florida Youth Football League. Now he needed to learn how to play quarterback.
That process started before his first day with the Packer Rattlers. He began training in 2010 with Eric Kresser, a former Florida (1992-95) and Marshall (1996) quarterback who won the Division I-AA national championship as the Herd’s starter.
Kresser first worked with Allen’s cousin, Kevin Anderson, who is entering his redshirt senior season at Fordham. In the past two years, Anderson completed 65 percent of his passes for 5,580 yards and 57 touchdowns against only 13 interceptions.
“Jake and I started working together the summer going into sixth grade,” Kresser says. “He was just a little kid and he was raw, but I could tell he had the arm. He was a pitcher, so he liked to throw the ball.”
Even with the arm talent, so much more goes into playing the position. Kresser has been teaching those lessons to Allen one step at a time over the past seven years.
“We got busy on footwork and those things when he was little,” Kresser says. “He got real good at his drops and his timing with the routes. As he got into eighth grade, we started doing 7-on-7 and getting him used to running plays off cards.
“Right around the same time, he and I started working on coverage and reads by watching game film. He was always a little bit ahead of everyone else his age because he got started so young. And through high school, I’ve gradually put more on his plate.”
Spend a minute talking ball with Allen and his football IQ is evident. He recalls and explains plays the way a coach would, with an understanding of the passing game, route concepts and defensive tendencies.
Kresser didn’t have that knowledge before his arrival at Florida. He believes 1996 Heisman Trophy winner Danny Wuerffel won the starting job because of it.
“His whole deal with quarterback coaching is he doesn’t want his guys to go into college as unprepared as he was,” Jake says. “Danny Wuerffel was a step ahead of him. He wants to make sure I’m prepared so that what happened to him doesn’t happen to me. Kresser always had the talent. The man is 44 years old and still spins the ball with the best of them. But it’s just as important to know what you’re doing under center.”
Allen has taken that to heart, becoming a student of the game. He won’t walk into the classroom and take a test without studying. He’s a film room junkie and spends hours preparing for an opponent.
“I have to study my ass off,” Jake says. “For me, being prepared is everything. If I’m not confident and ready, I can’t go. I need to be prepared. That means visualizing what I need to do and really seeing it, not just going out and playing football. I’m not one of those quarterbacks who’s going to make eight players miss. But when I know the ins and outs of that defense and my offensive game plan, I don’t think I can be stopped.
“Every quarterback in college football can throw a 15-yard comeback. But can do you it when the bullets are flying and there’s so many different things coming at you? You also have everything that’s going on before the snap as far as reading the defense, making sure you’re in the right formation and calling an audible if you have to. This is basic stuff every college quarterback knows, but I’ve been working on it since middle school.”
Kresser also helped the Allen family with the recruiting process. As they evaluated the scholarship offers Jake should pursue, Florida quickly emerged as the best potential option. Coach Jim McElwain and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier had a track record with quarterbacks and ran a pro-style system.
Working toward that offer was the goal for Allen. When it came in the summer of 2015, he committed to the Gators.
“He was determined to make that happen,” Kresser says. “From middle school, he knew that he wanted to be a quarterback. Soon after that, he knew he wanted to be a Gator. This has all been in the making for a while now.”
Kresser was by Jake’s side when he put pen to paper on National Signing Day, the culmination of all their work. Allen credits his QB coach for making it happen.
“He’s meant everything to me,” Jake says of Kresser. “I wouldn’t be where I’m at right now. I wouldn’t be committed to Florida. I wouldn’t have played at St. Thomas Aquinas. He made me the player I am through the mental aspect of the game to the physical aspect. He’s a special guy.”
— Eric Kresser (@EricKresser) February 1, 2017
Elite 11 snub
It’s a privilege to be invited to the Elite 11 as a high school quarterback. But for a competitor such as Allen, he settles for nothing less than a spot in the final group.
The Elite 11 is an annual QB competition run by former NFL player Trent Dilfer and several coaches. Allen earned an invite last March at the The Opening Regional in Miami.
Despite his Florida commitment and the state championship he won as a junior, recruiting analysts did not project Allen to be one of the top 11 quarterbacks among the 24 invited.
“Jake’s always had a chip on his shoulder, so that was fine,” his father says. “You’d hear, ‘He’s not athletic. He’s not strong enough.’ I always knew he had the potential. He had the clutch gene. He’s always had that ‘it’ factor, always wanted to be in the spotlight, always rose up.”
The competition takes place in Redondo Beach, Calif., and features a number of workouts and position drills. According Allen’s father, a former tight end at Boston University, the hardest part of the week is when the coaches hold a “pro day” for the quarterbacks.
“It’s the only thing they do where all eyes are on you,” Tim says. “It’s eight minutes of every throw with all the cameras and coaches on you. They literally put these kids under a microscope and really test what they can do.”
Reports, tweets and video clips from Allen’s workout indicate that he performed exceptionally. That’s also the impression he got from the coaches, but it wasn’t reflected in the results.
“They grade each quarterback on their workout and at the end they told me I had the highest score,” Jake says. “Again, this is the only workout where you’re the only quarterback throwing and Trent Dilfer is right over your shoulder.
“Coach Dilfer and Coach (Charlie) Frye both told me I had the highest score from that day, but it wasn’t documented. Somehow I was No. 3 when the final results were posted on Twitter. To this day, I still feel like I was wronged.”
#Elite11ProDay Final Standings:
— Elite11 (@Elite11) June 5, 2016
Moreover, Allen was not named to the Elite 11 at the end of the competition. His father feels the pro day workout should carry the most weight when determining the top quarterbacks.
“It’s all politics,” Tim says. “As a dad, I saw who they wanted to talk to for camera time and story lines, and I knew Jake wasn’t in their plans. It’s a TV show and a media play. But when the spotlight was put on him in that workout, he rose to the occasion and outperformed every other quarterback there. When all the chips are on the table, he has it. You either have that or you don’t.”
Elite 11 coach Baylin Trujillo worked with Allen at The Opening Regionals in Miami and Orlando. Trujillo loves his mechanics and understanding of the position, but points to Allen’s intangibles as his best attribute.
“He’s very vocal,” Trujillo says. “He does not shy away from the crowd. We were doing some ladder drills on footwork and flashing numbers, and he wasn’t scared of the competition. We gave him a drill that’s almost impossible and he was the first one in line to say, ‘Let’s do it.’ You can’t teach that.
“He showed leadership and a lot of guys followed him. That’s what you need as a quarterback. You can be a silent leader, but he vocalizes what he wants and his confidence is appealing. That makes him special, and other players gravitate toward that.”
— Zach Abolverdi (@ZachAbolverdi) March 6, 2016
The frustrations for Allen didn’t end with the Elite 11.
St. Thomas Aquinas lost its season opener to Miami Booker T. Washington, 27-23, which Allen calls the low point in his prep career. He completed 3 passes for 56 yards on the game’s final drive, the last coming on third-and-10 with 40 seconds left.
STA receiver Trevon Grimes appeared to score on the play, but was ruled down at the 1-yard line in a controversial call by the officials. The Raiders celebrated what they thought was a touchdown, then scrambled to the line of scrimmage in confusion to get the snap off.
The offensive line thought the ball was being spiked, but the coaches signaled in a passing play from the sideline. Allen dropped back to throw and was hung out to dry with no blockers. He put up a desperation pass to avoid the sack, but it was picked off in the end zone (see below).
It was a crushing loss for Allen, who deleted the Twitter app on his phone to ignore the onslaught of negative and hateful tweets sent his way.
“It was rough for a few weeks,” Jake says, “but I wasn’t going to let that game define my senior season.”
The Raiders won seven of their next eight regular-season games, with the only loss coming on the road in triple overtime against the No. 1 team in the country, Bishop Gorman. Allen then guided STA through the playoffs again and into the Class 7A final against Plant.
Despite Allen’s postseason run and better senior statistics than his junior season, he was downgraded to a 3-star recruit just three days before the state championship game. The explanation he got was that his passing numbers weren’t impressive enough in 2016.
“I guess that’s what happens when you only play one half in every game except two,” says Allen, whose team averaged a 38-point margin of victory in 2016. “So when I hear stuff like that, it pisses me off. That’s really it. When people tell me I can’t do something, my reaction is, ‘OK, watch.’”
Allen took out those frustrations on Plant. With McElwain and Nussmeier in attendance for the game, he threw for 329 yards and 5 touchdowns to lead St. Thomas Aquinas to a 45-6 win and its third consecutive state title.
In the final minute of the third quarter, he launched a deep pass that went for a 62-yard score on what would be his final throw of the night (see below).
“The offensive line made a slide call because they had guys blitzing,” Jake recalls. “They were in man coverage so they brought the house. I knew Mike Harley was going to beat any corner they put on him. There was a guy coming free straight at my face. I couldn’t take a 3-step drop and throw the post like I wanted to.
“So I got the snap and put the ball up high as I could. If you notice, I threw it like a Hail Mary because he needed time to run under it and make the catch. I couldn’t throw it on a rope because he wasn’t even out of his break yet. I got smacked, but that was a moment where I felt the game was slowing down for me.”
Kresser thinks Allen’s skill set and his early commitment to Florida negatively impacted his stock in recruiting. He also notes that Allen never had to be a superstar at STA, but his experience there will be beneficial for him once he joins the Gators.
“I’ve never been in that business of rating guys,” Kresser says. “But I think what happens, or so I’m told, is a lot of it based on how many offers you get and the quality of those offers. So when a kid commits early, he’s kind of hurting himself on the rankings because in most cases he won’t get looks from other schools. So when you get ranked, I think they frown upon that. The other thing with that is so many colleges run spread option offenses. Jake’s not that guy, so he’s not going to get offers from a lot of those offensive coaches. He got offers from a specific group of schools, but a lot of those didn’t offer him because he was committed to his in-state school. It would have been a waste of time.
“Jake was on a team that was loaded with D-I talent and they really didn’t pass the ball that much. On a lesser team, he would’ve put the team on his back and had to make more plays. It’s kind of a double-edged sword. Sometimes these kids that play on bad teams, their film is a highlight reel. They’re making plays left and right because they have to. But the fact is, Jake’s going to the University of Florida. It’s going to be a lot like St. Thomas Aquinas. They’re going to have a ton of athletes around him. He’s not going to be asked to win every game on his own. He has to make plays when his number is called, manage the offense and not make mistakes. It will be a very similar situation.”
Allen is the latest in a long line of quarterbacks tasked with restoring the greatness Tim Tebow brought to Florida.
He’ll come in fourth on the depth chart behind 2016 starter Luke Del Rio and redshirt freshmen Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask. Competition, however, is nothing new for Allen.
He transferred as a freshman from Boca Raton High School to Cardinal Gibbons, which already had a starting quarterback in place. The same scenario awaited him at St. Thomas Aquinas when he transferred there for his junior season.
“Went to Cardinal Gibbons for competition, beat that kid. I came to St. Thomas for competition, beat the other kid out. I embrace competition,” Jake says.
That attitude impressed Nussmeier during his evaluation and recruitment of Allen.
“First off, he went there and competed,” Nussmeier told FloridaGators.com. “He went there as a junior, wasn’t the starter, and had to beat out the guy that they had kind of penciled as the starter. So anytime you are willing to put yourself out there at a place like St. Thomas and compete against the best, that should show you something about the kid’s character. … You talk about leadership, he was the first guy who committed in this class.
“Jake had a phenomenal year, 13-2, won another state championship, first-team all-state (twice). He’s a guy that wants to be a Florida Gator and really understands what this program is all about. The great tradition here at the position and the three Heisman Trophy statues out front, Jake gets all that. He’s chomping at the bit to come in and compete. Really excited to add him to the mix and gives us another guy that we really believe could be the future of our quarterback position.”
That belief is shared by Kresser, who is currently working with Allen on the playbook material he received from Nussmeier. Allen plans to attend several practices this spring to take mental reps and get a better sense of the offense.
“If he has the same system in place for four years like I did at Florida, the sky’s the limit for him,” Kresser says. “He can be a national championship quarterback. There’s nothing too big for Jake. He wants it all and he’s prepared to fight for it. He has all the physical tools.
“But I can tell you, the No. 1 strength with Jake is he’s determined and he’s a leader. He knows what he wants, he’s laser focused and he’s not afraid to lead guys in the huddle. I would trust that guy in the huddle more than anybody I know. I don’t think Florida coaches maybe even know as much as I do, but they’ll be pleasantly surprised when they get him with the team and he starts taking charge.”
If his past is any indication, that shouldn’t be a problem for Allen.
“I’m going to start on the bottom at Florida and I’ll have to work my way up,” Jake says. “I’ve had to do that everywhere I’ve been — Deerfield Packer Rattlers, Cardinal Gibbons, STA. I’m ready for the challenge.”