3 Wildcats made big choices; now, they're All-Americans
Josh Allen was looking at money. Maybe not serious money, but the kind of cash that comes in handy when you’re a new father. Diapers ain’t cheap, you know?
Benny Snell was looking at his future. And it didn’t involve him wearing scarlet and gray. His home state college football machine, Ohio State, didn’t want him. So now what?
Bunchy Stalling was looking through his legs. The world is upside down when you’re a center and your team’s primary formation is the shotgun. Only, his snaps kept sailing over his quarterback’s head. How is he expected to replace a guy like Jon Toth?
Enter Mark Stoops.
He spoke to Allen earnestly about his potential leap to the NFL. He recruited Benny Snell as though the kid was the top-ranked player in the Buckeye State, not a guy rated 38th-best. And he moved Stallings a few step to his right, to offensive guard.
It might sound easy now but there had to be anxious moments involved for all three. What if Allen gets hurt? How is he going to provide for his brand, new son? Surely, he’ll go somewhere in the early rounds of the draft – that would be decent money, right?
Would Snell sign? And if he does, do they redshirt him, or the speedier A.J. Rose?
And if Stallings doesn’t work out at guard, do they keep him at center? Can Nick Haynes handle the job as he battles diabetes? Is the redshirt freshman, Drake Jackson, ready to take over?
This is why coaches don’t sleep much.
As well all know, it worked out splendidly. Allen will be a first-round NFL draft pick and, provided he hires someone he can trust to manage his money, his family will be just fine.
Snell will have the same decision Allen faced last year – stay, or go? Running backs have a far different shelf life than linebackers; for them, it’s often better to start that professional clock, if all things remain equal. Either way, he’ll be okay.
Stallings, a redshirt senior, was a late addition to the class of 2014, a three-star prospect from Birmingham, Alabama. He decided to be a Wildcat when UK recruiters John Schlarman and Neal Brown trudged through a snow storm to visit him at his high school. Another sound decision…
All three landed in Lexington. All three are All-Americans who helped push, pull and carry Kentucky to a nine-win season and a berth in the Citrus Bowl, where the Cats can make it 10.
All three are facing another choice: Do I play in the bowl, putting myself at potential risk? Do I step away from my teammates, the guys I’ve called “brothers” all season? Surely, they’d understand. All of them would give anything to be in my shoes. Some of them will some day.
Allen already has made his choice. He says he’ll play, even though he has nothing to prove to anyone.
He’s thrown a lasso around virtually every major defensive award college football has to give, each one likely a dagger to the coaching staff at Monmouth that knew four years ago it had received a commitment from a skinny New Jersey senior who looked like he could be something special.
Then Kentucky came calling. Josh Allen had a decision to make. The next thing you know, he’s putting together one of the greatest seasons in the history of college football, much less Kentucky football. He’s the Wildcats’ new record-holder in sacks (career and single season) and he leads the SEC in sacks, tackles for loss and forced fumbles.
Snell’s choice of colleges has worked out, to say the least. He has a big chance at leaving as UK’s career rusher, needing 107 yards against Penn State in the bowl game. Not easy, but doable.
He’ll be running behind Stallings, who no doubt is delighted he stuck around through that blizzard to meet up with two UK recruiters. His 170 blocks at the point of attack this season included 55 knockdowns.
Imagine being flattened by a guy named, “Bunchy.” He did that a lot, helping Snell rush for more than 1,000 yards for the third consecutive season.
For all three, important decisions shaped their respective college careers. Turns out, they were All-America decisions.