April 12, 2014
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – As Marshall running backs coach Chris Barclay opined recently, if you want to be a good football team, it “helps to have different tools in the toolbox.”
Well, the Thundering Herd may have found an Allen wrench.
In the last two Marshall spring practices, redshirt junior Davonte Allen has provided – finally – the kind of play at outside receiver that Coach Doc Holliday has wanted and his team has needed.
In Saturday’s controlled scrimmage at Edwards Stadium, Allen caught five passes for 122 yards. The ability of the rangy, 6-foot-2, 200-pound Belle Glade, Fla., native to stretch the field is an ingredient that was in short supply even as MU went 10-4 and won the Military Bowl last season.
Allen said after scrimmage that he’s as healthy as he has been “since my freshman year (2012). It’s been a long time. He’s primed to be the Herd starter at the “X” receiver spot, after enduring a redshirt year and two injury-plagued seasons.
“He just hasn’t been on the field,” Holliday said recently of Allen, who has 21 catches for 353 yards and four touchdowns in two seasons. “He has the talent. He just needs to stay on the field.”
Allen missed spring practice a year ago with a broken foot. That followed missed time for an injured quad and a hamstring – a receiver’s nightmare – and then a labrum tear.
“I didn’t feel good last season until after the third game (a loss at Ohio),” Allen said. “I just had to push through mentally and physically to get here, but now I finally feel 100 percent. I’m stronger.
“I didn’t feel rusty then, but looking back, it was tough going through workouts. I’m just doing it mentally and everyone else is doing it physically. It’s frustrating. I just felt like I was behind, and I had to catch up.”
Back in his redshirt freshman season (2012), Allen played a crucial role in a Herd win at Memphis.
He had four receptions – all for first downs – and three were for 20 or more yards in third- and fourth-down situations. His 28-yard TD catch from Rakeem Cato was a game-decider on a fourth-and-6 play … and that all that came after senior star and future NFLer Aaron Dobson was injured on the game’s first play.
Holliday called that “the biggest play” in a 38-28 November home win.
That was then.
Now? Is the Allen of the last two practices what the Herd has wanted and expected from the receiver?
“Yes, that’s him,” said second-year Marshall receivers coach and nine-year NFL veteran Mike Furrey said Saturday afternoon. “That’s what everybody has told Davonte for two or three years now, what he’s capable of doing. But until the young man really decides how great he wants to be it doesn’t really matter how hard you work or what you put in on a daily basis.
“Once you get that mentality to come out and want to be the guy, want to be the go-to guy, the deep threat, the big-time player … Until you get that mentality, all that hard work is going to get you a little farther down the road, but not really where you’re capable of getting.
“He’s made his decision over the last two days and I pray he’s made it forever, that he wants to be the guy, to be big-time, to be the threat and he’s ready to become more than simply what he’s capable of becoming.”
As a group, the Herd outside receivers have made solid progress this spring, with Allen, Justin Hunt and Chris Alston at the “X” spot and Craig Wilkins, Angelo Jean-Louis and Demetrius Evans at the “Z” – although there are some sets where the players are interchangeable.
Furrey still is looking for a consistent playmaker outside to complement veteran Tommy Shuler in the slot. And in Saturday’s practice, with Shuler absent for a family wedding, backup Deandre Reaves turned in some big plays on those routes.
Allen knows he has the potential for a breakout season – as do Holliday, Furrey and perhaps most importantly, Cato.
“As long as you make the plays, Cato has confidence in you,” Allen said. “He’ll go to you if you make the plays, and all that confidence is tied in together. I feel like I’m on track now. I’m trying to stay focused and stay consistent. I know I can do what I’ve been doing.”
Last season, Allen played in all 14 games, but he had only nine receptions for 163 yards. His two touchdown catches came in an Edwards Stadium romp past Southern Miss.
Furrey sees a different Allen in the recent practices.
“I think there are a lot of things that have contributed to what he’s done over the last couple of days,” the Herd receivers coach said. “The first thing is he’s tired of failing, tired of hearing everybody telling him he should be this, be that and he doesn’t practice like that or perform like that.
“And I think it finally kind of got to the point where he said, ‘Screw it. I’m in. Let me see what I can do. I don’t care what happens. I don’t care who’s in front of me, don’t care how physical I have to be. I’m better than everybody I go against.’ He finally got that attitude.
“What also helps is Cato, helps a lot. Cato has been so hard on him, but then loving after he’d been hard on Davonte, trying to just nurture him, because Cato could see the potential, the possibilities. Then, there’s nobody in front of him, and really nobody behind him to get him where he needed to go. And we need him, and I think he’s understanding that. I wish I could tell you the exact thing that’s turned him on for two days, but I like what he’s doing and we’ll take what he’s doing.”
Furrey said his receivers group is not only deeper than last spring, but they are helped by more competition among themselves.
Allen said he’s aided by finally feeling good about himself physically as well as mentally.
“It’s the healthiest I’ve been here since my freshman year,” Allen said. “When I was hurt, everything you take in mentally, but you can’t do it on the field. All those setbacks, that all played a part.
“Now, I just feel good all around, the best I’ve felt in a long time.”