Austin Allen named co-starter ahead of season opener

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His new nickname is Sticks because no matter how much gain he makes in the weight room, it’s not visible. 
But rest assured, Austin Allen has put in the work and whether or not you can see it, the gains are there. It will be on display Saturday morning in Memorial Stadium. 
“From an outside perspective, I don’t look like I’ve gained any weight,” the Aurora native said in a phone interview last week. “I still look like the same stick, so to speak. I can just feel stronger. I can move guys I couldn’t move before and add that with the technique we gained, it’s a force to be reckoned with. 
“We’re moving a ridiculous amount of weight,” Allen continued. “He (strength coach Zach Duval) is getting us right. Our whole team is light-years ahead of where we were.”
Oz used that phrase (light-year ahead of where we were) several times during our conversation and I found it to be very interesting. 
Because he’s right. 
There’s not a lot of super-secret intel that’s needed, either. It’s visible in the practice hype videos the team’s social media shares. It’s hidden in the coach’s media availabilities. Soon, it will be visible for all to see on game day. 
One thing I’ve found particularly interesting is comments from the tight end room, just to see how Allen is getting along. A quote last week from tight ends coach Sean Beckton made waves. 
“I told Jack Stoll in front of all of them yesterday, I told him that Austin Allen and Kurt Rafdal have closed the gap on him,” Beckton said Aug. 21. “There was a major gap between Jack and those two last year, and those guys have really closed the gap physically and also mentally in terms of understanding what we’re trying to accomplish on every single play.”
According to Allen, Stoll’s absence from spring ball was where he made huge strides, taking reps with the No. 1 offense up against the Blackshirts.  
“Fall camp has been a big step in the right direction,” he said. “It really helped this spring when Jack was injured. It was unfortunate he was down but it allowed me to take a lot of reps with the first team and go against the No. 1 defense. Now, I’m comfortable being me out on the field. I got all the reps so now I can focus on what I need to get done from a team standpoint. We’re light-years ahead of where we were last year.”
There’s that phrase again.
The depth chart released Monday morning solidified much of what’s been said. 
Stoll and Allen were listed as co-starting tight ends with Kurt Rafdal noted behind both. Somewhere, somehow, some way, Oz made up the ground to be considered in such a fashion. 
Now, listing on the depth chart is sort of misleading. The trio of Stoll, Allen and Rafdal will all see the field -- and a lot of it. 
However, considering how much more commanding Stoll was up to spring ball, it’s interesting to hear the gains the former Husky has made in the eyes of his teammates and coaching staff.
During Monday’s press conference, coach Scott Frost noted that Allen’s improvement in all aspects is noticeable.
“Austin has improved by leaps and bounds -- to the point where there’s no drop-off when he’s in and Jack isn’t,” Frost noted. “There’s going to be a lot of sets that we run with both those guys on the field. We thought it was just and fair to list them both as 1s because that’s how we feel about them.”
For some, it could be hard to understand just how different things are from year one to year two. 
Look at it this way -- on opening day of fall camp last season, Allen and his Husker teammates were doing what he described as Install 1 of the playbook. Basically, that’s opening up the playbook to page one. 
“I was treading water on the playbook,” Allen said.
However, when the Huskers opened fall camp a month ago at this time, the team went quickly through the entire playbook from 2018. 
“It was weird because I usually have my notepad to jot things down of what’s new,” Allen noted. “The first week of practice, I had three notes. I had everything figured out from the playbook. Now, we just have to be technicians on our technique.
“That was a big step for me to bring energy to the offense instead of worrying about what I’m supposed to do. Now, it’s how can I help my teammates while I’m doing what I’m doing.”
What a difference a year makes. 
Ten days before Nebraska’s first game against Akron last year, coaches showed the players film of the Zips. For the offensive players, they would see Akron’s defense against similar plays in the Huskers playbook and how they could be successful. 
 “I didn’t really understand how that worked,” Allen said. “This is our offense against their defense. It was more of a mind thing. It works and we’re going to run it, too. 
“This year, I understand that we’re looking at our opponent’s defense and I can put myself in the offense’s shoes and say, ‘This guy did this wrong, I’m going to do it right.’”
It’s not only that, but the feeling deep down is so much different for Allen. Last season, he was preparing to take the field for the first time in a new offense where everything was a ‘first.’ 
Ten days before opening the season against South Alabama Saturday morning? Excitement replaces anxiousness. 
“From a confidence standpoint, I’m so much better off this year,” Allen said. “Last year, 10 days out I was very anxious. Today, these 10 days will feel like 10 years. I just want to play. We’re confident.”
Then there are the expectations. There will always be expectations. Consider how the Huskers are looked at nationally coming off back to back 4-8 seasons. 
A team feeds off its head coach and how he carries himself. Coach Frost hasn’t hid from them, or anyone. Instead, he expects every bit of it. 
He wants the expectations. He wants it to be like it was when he was a player here. He wants his players to respond to that. 
“It seemed at the beginning of spring ball, it was a bit crazy to build such expectations. It’s evident now that if we play like we’ve been practicing, there’s nobody that can stop us,” Allen said. “We are clicking. We’re just as good as we want to be.”
The time to prognosticate is over. It’s time to play the game. 
RICHARD RHODEN can be reached at sports@hamilton.net
 

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