A natural transition
Sophomore Nate Allen was named Nagurski National Defensive Player of the Week after forcing a fumble, recovering a fumble and intercepting a pass against Auburn. ORACLE PHOTO/SEAN REED
When senior cornerback Mike Jenkins first heard that Nate Allen – a sophomore and former high school quarterback – would be starting behind him at free safety this season, he was apprehensive.
“When they first moved him over from quarterback, I kind of felt like, he’s a quarterback, he’s soft, he can’t tackle,” Jenkins said. “But he’s fast – he makes plays on the ball and I’ve gotten pretty comfortable playing with him.”
After starting two games, recording 11.5 tackles and a hand in four turnovers, Allen has quickly earned the respect of his teammates and proved that a player who was recruited to run an offense can be just as
effective at disrupting one.
As a signal caller for Cape Coral High School, Allen threw for more than 5,000 career yards – breaking every school passing record – and was ranked as the 67th best prospect in Florida by the Orlando Sentinel.
When it came time to choose a college, he turned down schools like Clemson and Iowa State to commit to USF. Initially, Allen hoped to play quarterback for the Bulls, but after Matt Grothe’s emergence during his freshman year, Allen realized the best way for him to help his team was on the other side of the ball.
“Out of high school, I thought I would play quarterback,” Allen said. “But once I got here I
realized that my best chance to get on the field early would be at safety, so I made the decision to switch over.”
It was a smart move.
After playing sparingly in his freshman year, Allen debuted as a starter in this year’s season opener against Elon.
Against the Phoenix, Allen had 4.5 tackles and caught his first career interception.
A week later, Allen proved his initial performance was more than just beginner’s luck.
In the Bulls’ overtime victory against Auburn, the sophomore was second on the team in
tackles (seven), had an
interception, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
It might seem surprising that someone recruited to play
quarterback would have such an impact in only his second
collegiate start at safety but, according to Allen, he was just doing his job.
“I’ve been playing free safety since Pop Warner (youth league) so it’s not really a new position for me,” Allen said. “I was just looking to make some big plays. I just wanted to do everything I could to help the team win.”
His performance against the Tigers didn’t just help his team win – it also put Allen in the national spotlight.
Following the Auburn victory, the sophomore was named the Bronko Nagurski National Defensive Player of the Week and was put on the watch list for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, an award given to the best national defensive player of the year.
Despite the accolades, Allen isn’t the type of player to let awards go to his head. The sophomore knows he’s gotten to where he is by working hard and taking criticism, which according to USF coach Jim Leavitt, is the young safety’s best trait.
“You’ve got to know Nate Allen,” Leavitt said. “He’s a very good athlete, but that, to me, is not why Nate is special. He really is driven to be a very good
football player. Nate had some great plays (against Auburn) but he also had some poor plays. What I love about Nate is that he’s going to work at the weaknesses and make those strengths.”
Leavitt’s admiration for Allen’s work ethic has even led his teammates to give him the nickname “Golden Child.”
“They call me Leavitt’s son,” Allen said. “I don’t know why but that’s what I picked up. They say I can’t do any wrong, but I seem to get chewed out a lot too.”
While playing the same
position that his coach played in college – Leavitt was the 1977 Defensive Back of the Year while playing at Missouri – is bound to lead to some harsh criticism, Allen knows his coach is only trying to make him better.
With only two starts under his belt, Allen has already
proven himself to be a valuable addition to the Bulls’ defense. And for this quarterback-turned-safety, there’s nowhere else he’d rather be.
“It’s great,” Allen said. “I just try to stay humble about it because I’m just so thankful to be where I’m at. It’s like a dream. It’s almost to good to be true.”