After signing with Texas A&M as the nation’s No. 1 quarterback recruit in the class of 2014 according to Scout.com, Kyle Allen spent the first two years of his college career jockeying with two other quarterbacks for the starting job in College Station, starting a total of 14 games and throwing 33 touchdowns against just 14 interceptions over two seasons before transferring to Houston. I caught up with Allen a few weeks ago on campus for a wide-ranging conversation, in which we discussed, among other things, the Cougars’ coaching transition, his maturation process and how Major Applewhite has gotten him ready for 2017.
Bruce Feldman:Does it feel it much different now that Major has taken over for Tom [Herman] running this program?
Kyle Allen: Not much different, honestly. Maybe not as many theatrics as it was with Herman. It’s the same overall culture. It’s the same idea, same vision. It’s basically the same.
BF: Major Applewhite hired Brian Johnson, who had been at Mississippi State, as the new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. This is your third quarterbacks coach in college. How’s the transition going?
KA: He’s good. I like him a lot so far. He’s very smart. He’s taken a lot of the stuff that he’s done with Dak [Prescott], he’s doing it with us. It’s good to able to have a guy that you’ve seen have success, especially with it being Dak, a guy that I played against.
BF:What are some examples of those things he’s brought with him?
KA: It’s a lot of footwork stuff that you might not usually think about; a lot of the quick-game footwork and using your eyes to move linebackers. The quick-game is different than what I have ever done. The biggest thing is probably the footwork. And, as I go back and watch Dak and his stuff with the Cowboys this year, you can tell his footwork is really good.
BF:Even though you still have two seasons of eligibility remaining, I think for a lot of people it probably feels like a long time since you were that five-star recruit headed to A&M and then became the starter. What’s been the biggest change you’ve made since those days?
KA: Just from a mental and a maturity standpoint has been the biggest thing. I was thrown in there really early as a freshman at A&M. I didn’t know what it really took to be a successful college quarterback. In just the past year and a half, to sit back and really observe [former Houston quarterback Greg Ward] especially, and observe college football in general, I realized what it took. I don’t think I had a good enough view on that being thrown in there right away.
I didn’t really have someone at A&M who I could mirror my habits off of. When I got there, it was me and Kenny [Hill] battling for the spot. I was doing what I think is right. Now, I get to come here and I see Greg. He is one of the hardest workers I’ve ever been around. It was good to see someone who had those habits, and Coach Applewhite helped me build those habits too.
BF:What were the biggest things aside from work ethic that you picked up by observing Greg?
KA: Probably the biggest thing was reading defenses a lot more meticulously, especially with the defense we run. It’s extremely multiple. Back when I was at A&M and would play against our scout team and Coach [John] Chavis, it’s a great defense, but it’s not very multiple. They do a couple of things and they do ’em really well. When I came here, that whole year was learning the ins and outs of defenses. We’d base it down into a couple of things and try to identify protections early and identify blitzes early so I could get into the progressions and stuff like that. I think that’s the biggest thing that I’ve improved on—being able to identify stuff early pre-snap so I don’t have to worry about ’em post-snap.
BF:To go from being on the sidelines to the expected starting quarterback, what are the primary things you’re focusing on this off-season?
KA: Footwork has been a big thing for me this off-season. Just because I’d been playing with scout team all last fall and my footwork went to s---. You’re back there with like five walk-on offensive linemen and just trying to make it work. Your feet are all over the place, trying to throw fadeaway balls. That was the biggest thing for me [this spring] to get my footwork back to where it was and then continuing to progress in the read game and identifying blitzes and that stuff.
BF:Tom Herman had a lot of success in his two seasons and ends up at Texas. What was going through your mind as all the rumors are swirling about him leaving UH and you ending up with a different head coach by the time you get to be eligible here?
KA: I didn’t even think about coming here ’til he called me a couple of days after I announced [I was transferring].
I knew [about the potential of him leaving] going into that. We had a conversation about it while he was recruiting me. I was comfortable with Coach Applewhite when Coach Herman took the job. When I heard that our AD was looking at Coach Applewhite and our DC [Todd Orlando], I was comfortable with both of those just being around them for the past year and a half, so once [Applewhite] got the job, I was really happy about it.
BF:What have you learned about Major in your time working with him?
KA: I think his attention to detail is the most I’ve ever been around. In quarterbacks meetings, it’s like (snaps fingers repeatedly). You had to be on your s--- every day. That really helped me progress a lot. I mean, I was off the board last year. I was like the seventh-string quarterback. He would be calling me on everything. I had to be on my toes in that meeting room. He was getting me prepared for this year.
BF:It was a chaotic search. At one point there was a report that Lane Kiffin was getting the job. What was it like to watch that unfold being a player here?
KA: It was all speculation, and you can’t text our AD or Coach Applewhite about it asking, ‘What’s really going on?’ You just hope they make the right decision. It’s not your job to do that. I was definitely following it. If someone like Lane had got the job here or someone else, you have to have those conversations because it’s a completely new person and they’re going to bring their whole entire new staff on and you have to re-evaluate things. But it was good to keep this same culture.
I had a conversation with our AD about it too. He wanted all of our opinions, and he was really good about it. I was like, ‘If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.’ I think he saw it the same way, too.
BF:Have you already graduated?
KA: I was supposed to graduate in May, but I would’ve had a huge class load this semester, so I decided to spread it out over this year to make it easier on me this spring. That way I could get a lot of work done. I’ll graduate in the fall.
BF:Did you ever think, “If I don’t like the fit, I could graduate and transfer someplace else and be eligible right away”?
KA: Yeah, I wanted to keep my options open. If Lane came in or someone else came in, and I didn’t really enjoy it or like it very much, then I wanted to have that option to leave. But I never wanted to. I like the guys here. I have a lot of good relationships. That was the hardest thing about leaving A&M. Having to leave all those guys who you are really close to.
BF:After sitting out a season and not being at a Power 5 program, do you feel a little like a forgotten man here?
KA: It’s out of my control, to be honest. I know how I play and my coaches know how I play, and people will see that this year. It doesn’t really matter that it was off the map supposedly. Another reason why I came here is because I think this place gives me a good enough platform to create a great résumé for the NFL. I didn’t want to go someplace that didn’t have that.